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Seniors who survive overdose often miss vital treatments

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News
Most seniors who survive a drug overdose often miss out on treatments that could help save them from a subsequent OD, a new study shows. Photo by Pixabay/Pexels
Most seniors who survive a drug overdose often miss out on treatments that could help save them from a subsequent OD, a new study shows. Photo by Pixabay/Pexels

Most seniors who survive a drug overdose often miss out on treatments that could help save them from a subsequent OD, a new study shows.

Almost 24,000 Medicaid beneficiaries died from a follow-up overdose out of 137,000 who survived an OD in 2020, researchers say. That's nearly one in five (17%).

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"People who have experienced one overdose are more likely to experience another," said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

However, treatment can reduce their risk. The odds of dying from another OD were:

58% lower in people treated with methadone

52% lower in people treated with buprenorphine

30% lower in people treated with naloxone

75% lower in people who had access to behavioral health assessment or crisis services

"We found that when survivors received gold-standard care such as medications for opioid use disorder and naloxone, the chances of dying from an overdose in the following year drop dramatically," Delphin-Rittmon said. "In short, medications for opioid use disorder, opioid overdose reversal medications and behavioral health supports save lives."

Unfortunately, only 4% of the group received drugs like methadone and buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction, while only 6% filled a prescription for naloxone, which blunts the effect of opioids.

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What's more, patients had to wait nearly two and a half months (72 days) to receive their medication after surviving an overdose, results show.

Overall, nine out of 10 (89%) beneficiaries received behavioral health services within the year following their overdose, with an average of 15 days of treatment during the year.

The new study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

"These findings underscore the importance of high-quality care following an overdose, and the opportunities that remain to connect people with needed care," said Dr. Dora Hughes, acting chief medical officer for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "Increasing the number of beneficiaries accessing these medications in a timely manner will save lives."

The results add to a growing body of evidence indicating that known methods of warding off fatal overdoses are rarely incorporated into the care of people struggling with opioid addiction, researchers concluded.

"At a time when over 100,000 people continue to die each year from overdose, we must prioritize making effective treatments and tools accessible - especially to those who are at the highest risk," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

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"Connecting with someone in an emergency department or after they have experienced a nonfatal overdose provides a valuable opportunity to both support them acutely in that moment, as well as offer lifesaving tools that can protect them from future overdoses, link them into treatment, and foster recovery," Volkow added in a NIDA news release.

More information

Ohio State University has more about opioid use disorder treatment.

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