Tightening access to painkillers won’t end the opioid epidemic

Policies intended to curb opioid overdoses by limiting access to prescription painkillers may have unintended consequences, including a potential short-term uptick in overdose deaths, according to a new study.

The study, which simulated the impact of 11 policies to address the consequences of opioids, found that many policies that would limit opioid prescriptions would actually result in more deaths because people who could not obtain painkillers may turn to heroin or fentanyl.

A March 4, 2019 New York Times article written by Austin Frakt, adjunct associate professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted that policies aimed at restricting access to opioids often put people who are in serious pain and legitimately need access to opioids in a difficult position.

“There needs to be more nuanced prescribing rather than simply cutting people off opioids,” said Laura Burke, an instructor in the School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. Burke was not involved with the study.

Read the New York Times article: The Opioid Dilemma: Saving Lives in the Long Run Can Take Lives in the Short Run