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Opioid Epidemic Reaches New Level of Crisis

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US Opioid Epidemic reaches new level of crisis in overdoses, hospitalisations and cost, according to new study by Ben-Gurion University, Harvard, and University of Chicago researchers

Boston, MA – A new study of the growing US opioid epidemic reveals that deaths from overdoses have nearly doubled over the past seven years, while increasing acute care costs and hospitalisations are taxing healthcare systems.

The new paper, The Critical Care Crisis of Opioid Overdoses in the United States published online ahead of print in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society is believed to be the first to quantify the impact of opioid abuse on critical care resources in the US. The findings reveal that opioid-related demand for acute care services has outstripped the available supply.

In the cohort study, researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Chicago analysed nearly 23 million adult hospital admissions at 162 hospitals in 44 states over a seven-year period: 01 January 1, 2009 until 31 September 2015. Among the more than 4 million patients requiring acute care, the researchers found 21,705 who were admitted to intensive care units (ICU) due to opioid overdoses. Admissions included overdoses for prescription drugs, methadone, or heroin.

‘We found a 34% increase in overdose-related ICU admissions while ICU opioid deaths nearly doubled during that same period’, according to Dr Lena Novack, a lecturer in BGU’s School of Public Health. The mortality rates of these patients climbed at roughly the same rate, on average, with a steeper rise in deaths of patients admitted to the ICU for overdose after 2012.

The average cost of care per ICU overdose admission also rose significantly (58%) from $58,517 in 2009 to $92,408 in 2015. In addition, the study indicated that opioid-related ICU admissions increased an average of more than half a per cent each year over the seven-year time frame, jumping from 7% to 10% by the end of the study period.

Patients admitted to the ICU due to an overdose increasingly required intensive care, including high-cost renal replacement therapy or dialysis. Admissions were identified using the Clinical Data Base/Resource ManagerTM of Vizient, which is comprised of data mainly from urban academic medical centres and may not reflect overdose-related acute care needs in other settings.

‘Our estimates may actually be on the low side. Since our team of researchers analysed admissions rather than a manual chart review, we may not have captured every admission if opioid-related complications weren’t coded as such’, Dr Novack says.

The study also did not determine whether increased ICU admissions for opioid overdoses resulted from improved community emergency response that may have saved lives but then required critical care, or whether the increased ICU admissions indicated that community emergency response needs improvement so patients require a less intensive hospital care.

States with the highest opioid hospitalisations

The researchers found that Massachusetts and Indiana have the highest opioid admission densities in the nation.Pennsylvania experienced the sharpest rise in opioid-related overdoses during the study period, with critical care overdose admissions nearly doubling since 2009. Illinois, California, New York, and Indiana have also experienced ICU admission rate increases during the period.

‘Our findings raise the need for a national approach to developing safe strategies to care for ICU overdose patients, to providing coordinated resources in the hospital for patients and families, and to helping survivors maintain sobriety following discharge’, the researchers conclude. 

In addition to Dr Novack, researchers involved in the study are Drs Jennifer Stevens, John Marshall, and Douglas Hsu at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Dr Michael Howell, University of Chicago.

About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion’s vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University’s expertise locally and around the globe. As Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) looks ahead to turning 50 in 2020, AABGU imagines a future that goes beyond the walls of academia. It is a future where BGU invents a new world and inspires a vision for a stronger Israel and its next generation of leaders. Together with supporters, AABGU will help the University foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev for the next 50 years and beyond. Click here to learn more.

AABGU, which is headquartered in Manhattan, has nine regional offices throughout the US. For more information, click here.  


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