Prescription opioid overdoses prompted more than 100,000 emergency department (ED) visits in 2010 and cost hospitals more than $2 billion, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Prescription overdoses were a factor in more than two-thirds of ED visits for overdoses nationwide that year, with the highest proportion found in the South, according to senior researcher Traci Green, Ph.D., of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rhode Island Hospital, and colleagues.
Green and her team analyzed the 2010 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample and classified visits according to opioid type, ED aggregated charges and healthcare utilization data, and ED overdose patients' inpatient care. They found that not only were prescription opioids involved in 67.8 percent of overdoses, 16.1 percent of overdoses involved heroin, 13.4 percent involved unspecified opiates and 2.7 percent involved combinations of opiates.
The study also identified several health conditions commonly found in overdose victims, including chronic respiratory and mental illnesses. "Our research indicated that there are high rates of several comorbidities among patients who overdosed," Green wrote. "This suggests that opioid analgesic prescriptions for patients with comorbidities should be handled with care, and healthcare providers should counsel all their patients about overdose risks. Similarly, she wrote, benzodiazepine intoxication was recorded for more than 20 percent of overdose patients, indicating healthcare providers should use discretion prescribing opioids alongside other sedatives.
Last year, multiple hospitals attempted to curb prescription drug abuse by restricting access. Then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a policy that did not allow patients access to Oxycontin or methadone at public hospitals, while McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah, announced it would first offer patients with chronic conditions non-narcotic medications, FierceHealthcare previously reported.
These policies proved controversial, with Alex Rosenau writing in the Journal of Internal Medicine that "restricting opioid prescription by emergency physicians will not solve the problem of opioid misuse."
Editor's Note: This story, in its original form, erroneously stated that prescription opioid overdoses caused two-thirds of ED visits; they in fact caused two-thirds of overdose-related ED visits. Additionally, due to a typographical error, the figure was given as 678 percent rather than 67.8 percent. It has been corrected.
To learn more:
- read the study abstract