Study: Opioid addiction increases risk of death tenfold

Research suggests healthcare systems should have better infrastructure and training for primary care doctors to diagnose and treat opioid addiction.

By Amy Wallace

April 21 (UPI) -- New research suggests people with an opioid dependency are 10 times more likely to die within a four-year period if treated in a general healthcare setting than people without substance abuse issues.

A study at the University of California Los Angeles examined the mortality rate of people with opioid use disorder in a general healthcare system, comparing them to those treated at specialty addiction clinics.


Opioid-based medications are commonly prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain, and include formulations such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl.

The over-prescription of opioids is considered the leading cause of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled in the United States since 1999, with many patients turning to heroin when they can't get prescription drugs, further contributing to the increase in the overdose and death rates.

"The high rates of death among patients with opioid use disorder in a general health care system reported in this study suggest we need strategies to improve detection and treatment of this disorder in primary care settings," Yih-Ing Hser, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a press release.


Researchers analyzed mortality data and electronic health records for 2,576 patients age 18 to 64 who were diagnosed with opioid use disorder between 2006 and 2014.

The study showed that by 2014, 465 people, or 18.1 percent of the study population, had died from opioid use.

The participants remained in the study for an average of four years, leading the researchers to figure a crude mortality rate of 48.6 deaths per 1,000 person-years for people in treated in general healthcare settings -- which was more than twice as high as the 20.9 deaths per 1,000 reported in previous studies in specialty addiction clinics. The rate was more than 10 times higher than the anticipated death rate of individuals of the same age and sex in the general population.

"The findings were surprising because one would potentially expect better health care outcomes for patients being served by a large health care system," Hser said. "Late identification of opioid use disorder and lack of addiction treatment could contribute to these high rates of serious health conditions and death."

The study was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

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