People with opioid use disorder die at a rate similar to heart attacks

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In a new study from Oregon Health & Science University, researchers found patients with opioid use disorder died at a rate comparable to those who suffered heart attacks within a year of hospital discharge.

They found that almost 8% of patients with opioid use disorder died within 12 months of being discharged.

The findings highlight the need for addiction care in the hospital, as well as generally improving health systems for patients with substance use disorders who also have other medical conditions.

Previous research has shown that people with opioid use disorder are seven times more likely to be hospitalized than the general population.

In the study, researchers reviewed data from a total of 6,654 Medicaid patients treated in 62 Oregon hospitals between April of 2015 and December of 2017.

Drug-related deaths, including overdoses, accounted for 58% of the 522 people who died within a year of being discharged from the hospital.

The other deaths were attributed to causes other than drug-related, including diseases of the circulatory, respiratory and endocrine systems.

The team found that overdoses are really just the tip of the iceberg for these patients, representing 13% of deaths in the year after discharge. A one-year death rate of 8% is similar to conditions like acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

The team says for heart attacks, hospital systems across the U.S. have universally accepted standards, metrics, and quality reporting that drive performance. The same should be true for opioid use disorder, where death rates are similar.

They say it’s clear that health systems need to better integrate and destigmatize the medical care these patients need, starting with easing access to proven addiction medications such as methadone and buprenorphine.

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The study is published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. One author of the study is Honora Englander, M.D.

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