Causes of Death After Nonfatal Opioid Overdose

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Abstract

Importance

A recent increase in patients presenting with nonfatal opioid overdoses has focused clinical attention on characterizing their risks of premature mortality.

Objective

To describe all-cause mortality rates, selected cause-specific mortality rates, and standardized mortality rate ratios (SMRs) of adults during their first year after nonfatal opioid overdose.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This US national longitudinal study assesses a cohort of patients aged 18 to 64 years who were Medicaid beneficiaries and experienced nonfatal opioid overdoses. The Medicaid data set included the years 2001 through 2007. Death record information was obtained from the National Death Index. Data analysis occurred from October 2017 to January 2018.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Crude mortality rates per 100 000 person-years were determined in the first year after nonfatal opioid overdose. Standardized mortality rate ratios (SMR) were estimated for all-cause and selected cause-specific mortality standardized to the general population with respect to age, sex, and race/ethnicity.

Results

The primary cohort included 76 325 adults and 66 736 person-years of follow-up. During the first year after nonfatal opioid overdose, there were 5194 deaths, the crude death rate was 778.3 per 10 000 person-years, and the all-cause SMR was 24.2 (95% CI, 23.6-24.9). The most common immediate causes of death were substance use–associated diseases (26.2%), diseases of the circulatory system (13.2%), and cancer (10.3%). For every cause examined, SMRs were significantly elevated, especially with respect to drug use–associated diseases (SMR, 132.1; 95% CI, 125.6-140.0), HIV (SMR, 45.9; 95% CI, 39.5-53.0), chronic respiratory diseases (SMR, 41.1; 95% CI, 36.0-46.8), viral hepatitis (SMR, 30.6; 95% CI, 22.9-40.2), and suicide (SMR, 25.9; 95% CI, 22.6-29.6), particularly including suicide among females (SMR, 47.9; 95% CI, 39.8-52.3).

Conclusions and Relevance

In a US national cohort of adults who had experienced a nonfatal opioid overdose, a marked excess of deaths was attributable to a wide range of substance use–associated, mental health, and medical conditions, underscoring the importance of closely coordinating the substance use, mental health, and medical care of this patient population.

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