BIDMC calculates impact of opioid-related ICU admissions

Hydrocodone opioid pills
The number of deaths and treatment costs also increased in that window. (Getty/smartstock)

The number of opioid-related admissions to intensive care has grown steadily since 2009 and costs are skyrocketing as a result, according to a new study.

Researchers led by a team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center examined (PDF) close to 23 million inpatient admissions recorded between 2009 and 2015 from 162 hospitals in 44 states, and found that ICU admissions related to opioid overdose increased by half of a percent on average each year. Of more than 4.1 million ICU admissions, 21,705 were opioid-related.

Overall, between Jan. 1, 2009 and Sept. 31, 2015, opioid overdose-related ICU admissions increased by 34%, according to the study.

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The average care costs for these patients also increased significantly during the study window, rising by 58% from $58,517 in 2009 to $92,408 in 2015. Opioid overdose deaths also nearly doubled during that period, the researchers found.

Jennifer Stevens, M.D., associate director of the medical ICU at Beth Israel and the study’s lead author, told FierceHealthcare in an interview that researchers were startled by the results, particularly because they expected admissions to increase but not mortality rates. 

"Mortality typically goes down," she said. "The very fact that we typically saw the opposite suggests the pace and severity is increasing for the opioid epidemic."

Stevens said that future studies should delve deeper into what is changing about patients' opioid-related illnesses, and how they can better be supported by intensive care teams.

RELATED: The imposing cost of a single opioid overdose

The nation’s opioid epidemic shows no signs of slowing down, and President Donald Trump has declared the crisis a national emergency. Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis released its first set of recommendations earlier this month, which include mandatory education for prescribers and increased treatment capacity for substance abuse.

Prescribing habits are a significant contributor to the addiction epidemic, as many patients are given more opioids than they need or will use. Still, it can be hard for doctors to strike the balance between patient demands, calls to reduce opioid use and what they deem appropriate pain management.

Editor's note: This story was updated August 15 to include Stevens' comments.