According to a recent study in the U.S., a growing number of Americans are needing intensive care at the hospital for opioid overdoses, and dying after receiving treatment for serious complications.
Since 2000, opioid-related overdose deaths have doubled. This is amid a worsening epidemic of addiction to both prescription pain meds and illegal drugs.
Dr. Jennifer Stevens from Harvard Medical School states, “There are growing numbers of people who are so sick from their opioid overdose that they need ICU-level care, and despite everything we can do in the ICU, more patients are dying with complications from their overdose than ever before.”
Stevens and her colleagues studied data on more than 4.1 million patients admitted to ICUs in 162 hospitals in 44 states, including 21, 705 with opioid overdoses.
“When we think of overdoses, we need not to just think about whether people died or survived, ” adds Stevens, “We also need to think about the tremendous personal and societal costs of the serious medical problems that can come from overdoes for people who didn’t die or didn’t die immediately.” During the seven-year period, the cost of caring for overdosed patients increased from $58,517 to $92,408 in 2015.
25 percent of opioid overdose patients experienced aspiration pneumonia, bacterial infections that happen when food, saliva, or vomit is breathed into the lungs instead of staying in the digestive tract. The other most common complication was the release of dead muscle fiber into the bloodstream, which, according to this study, occurred with 15 percent of the overdose patients in the ICU. Other patients suffered brain injuries or septic shock, a life-threatening response to infections that can cause serious organ damage. One in 10 people treated in the ICU needed mechanical ventilation machines to help them breathe.
“People who use injection drugs like heroin should obtain naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, and use drugs with partners who can help them,” said researcher Brendan Saloner at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
Many states allow family members to get naloxone, sometimes even without a prescription. Two medications, buprenorphone (suboxone) and methadone, can help reduce drug use.
Saloner comments, “Long-term change is possible and recovery is a realistic goal, but it requires time and patience.”