A recently released study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine has uncovered an alarming trend. Patients with opioid addiction, also referred to as opioid use disorder (OUD), experience an alarmingly high death rate – one 10 times higher than those not suffering opioid addiction. Not surprisingly, the study has raised some tough questions about the existing treatment infrastructure, and the system’s failure to identify and aid such at-risk individuals.

The Sobering Stats

Using electronic health records from a major university healthcare system from more than 2,500 patients ranging in age from 18 to 64, all identified as having an OUD, 465 deaths were observed during the eight-year period studied, 2006-2014. Drug overdose and disorder was the leading cause of death (19.8%), with deceased patients commonly experiencing other substance abuse disorders (tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine). Other causes included cardiovascular disease (17.4%), cancer (16.8%) and infectious disease (13.5%, of which 12% had hepatitis C). Alcohol abuse and hepatitis C were identified as primary markers. Compared to the general population, the deceased were more likely to be male (41.7% vs 31.6%), uninsured (87.1% vs 51.3%), and older at the time of initial OUD diagnosis (48.4 vs 39.8 years).

Unintended Effects

Though health care reforms (Federal Mental Health Parity, Addiction Equity Act, and the Affordable Care Act) were intended to lead to an expansion of services for substance abuse disorders in primary care, shifting them from previously isolated treatment centers, there appears to be a significant portion of the population slipping through the cracks. This suggests multiple issues within the current healthcare delivery system in identifying and addressing patients battling addiction:

  • Ignorance of the true risks of opioid abuse and corresponding treatments.
  • A lack of timely and sufficient screening for identifying patients with addiction.
  • Identification of addiction issues too late to provide appropriate/effective interventions.
  • A lack of addiction specialists on-site, as well a as a lack of outside resources for treatment.

The healthcare industry must find a better way to identify and treat patients suffering substance abuse disorders – before they pay the ultimate price. Clinicians in the primary healthcare setting could be a driving force – provided they receive proper training and assistance. For the worker, an effective pharmacotherapy review program ensures that recommended prescription treatment plans are necessary and appropriate and can help eliminate the potential for addiction.

Sources:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/879214?nlid=114467_4503&src=wnl_dne_170428_mscpedit&uac=96454AJ&impID=1337339&faf=1 
http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/doctors-need-to-recognize-alarmingly-high-death-rate-for-patients-opioid-addiction