Hospitalized opioid addicts die at a rate similar to people who have a heart attack after leaving the hospital.
Nearly 8% of patients addicted to opioids died within 12 months of hospital discharge, according to researchers from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).
"We need systems that can address comprehensive needs of people with substance use disorder and serious medical illness," said study co-author Dr. Honora Englander. She is an associate professor of medicine at OHSU in Portland.
"That means trauma-informed systems that destigmatize addiction to make health care systems more trustworthy and more effective for our patients," Englander explained in a university news release.
The study looked at data on more than 6,600 Medicaid patients treated in Oregon hospitals between April 2015 and December 2017.
Drug-related causes, including overdoses, accounted for 58% of the 522 deaths that occurred within a year of leaving the hospital. The other deaths were from diseases of the circulatory, respiratory and endocrine systems, the researchers found.
According to study co-author Caroline King of OHSU's department of biomedical engineering, "A lot of the research has focused on overdose deaths. We 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 that from conditions like a heart attack.
Englander pointed out that, "for heart attacks, hospital systems across the U.S. have universally accepted standards, metrics, and quality reporting that drives performance. The same should be true for opioid use disorder, where death rates are similar."
King said health systems need to do a better job of integrating and removing the stigma from the medical care these patients need.
And, Englander stressed, "It should be easier to access methadone than heroin. Right now, that is not the case — systems are such that people have to work so hard just to get life-saving treatment."
The findings were published online recently in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.