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Opioid Abusers at Higher Death Risk When Addiction Specialists Not Part of Care

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Apr 21st 2017

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FRIDAY, April 21, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Opioid addicts who get their medical care in settings such as primary care offices and hospitals, rather than addiction centers, are 10 times more likely to die than patients without substance abuse disorders, a new study finds.

Opioids include powerful prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), as well as illegal drugs such as heroin.

University of California, Los Angeles researchers studied data from nearly 2,600 adults who were diagnosed with opioid addiction between 2006 and 2014 and who received health care at a major university hospital. Not all were receiving treatment for their opioid addiction.

By the end of the period, 465 (18 percent) of the patients had died. Based on how long each person was in the study -- four years on average -- the researchers estimated that death rate was more than twice that of opioid addicts treated in addiction clinics.

The death rate among study participants was more than 10 times that of people in the general population of the same age and sex, according to the study.

"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," study lead author Yih-Ing Hser said in a UCLA news release. She is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

As opioid addiction has surged in the United States, people with opioid use disorders are increasingly being treated in primary care providers' offices, the researchers noted.

"Late identification of opioid use disorder and lack of addiction treatment could contribute to these high rates of serious health conditions and death," Hser said.

The study also found black or uninsured patients were more likely to die. The researchers said the findings point to the need for more study of disparities in addiction care.

The findings were published April 21 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on opioid addiction.