Steep Rise in Deaths for People Hospitalized After Opioid OD

From Drugs.com - December 4, 2017

Steep Rise in Deaths for People Hospitalized After Opioid OD

MONDAY, Dec. 4, 2017 -- The death rate has quadrupled among people whose opioid use lands them in a hospital, a new U.S. study finds.

More opioid users are being sent to the hospital due to a life-threatening overdose than for treatment of drug addiction, the researchers noted.

About 2 percent of people hospitalized for opioid use died in 2014, compared with 0.4 percent prior to 2000, the new analysis of federal hospital data revealed.

The same analysis showed that hospitalizations due to opioid or heroin poisoning have increased in recent years, even as the rate of people seeking treatment of opioid addiction at a hospital has gone down, said senior researcher Dr. Zirui Song. He is an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Before the turn of the century, most opioid-related hospitalizations were for treatment of opioid dependence and abuse. The more dire condition of drug overdose now has taken over as the major cause of opioid-driven hospital admissions, Song said.

"You can see that primary diagnoses due to dependence or abuse gradually goes down, while primary diagnoses of opioid and heroin poisoning steadily goes up," he noted.

Patients admitted for opioid or heroin overdose are also more likely to be white, middle-aged, from a lower-income area or being treated for a disability, according to Song's analysis of the nation's largest hospital inpatient database.

One health policy expert found the findings troubling.

"The opioid crisis has caught up people who have not been traditionally involved up in heroin crises in the history of our country," said Emily Feinstein, director of health law and policy for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

"Studies have been telling us that middle-aged white Americans are dying sooner," Feinstein added. "We think this is a lot because of substance abuse, and this study confirms that. We are seeing opioid abuse partly driving that trend."

An estimated 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 64,000 overdose deaths occurred in 2016, including more than 15,000 deaths from heroin and more than 20,000 due to synthetic opioids.

Song's observations confirm what experts had suspected about the progression of America's opioid epidemic, which was sparked by increasing numbers of Americans gaining access to and becoming hooked on prescription painkillers, Feinstein said.

"We know what kicks this off is the misuse of prescribed opioids, but we also know this is not really driving the problem anymore," Feinstein said.

The initial response to the opioid epidemic restricted access to prescription drugs, but did not address the underlying issue of drug addiction, Feinstein explained.


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