Health

Opioid Deaths At Hospitals Quadruple, Fueled By Medicare Patients

The death rate for people hospitalized for an opioid-related condition soared over the past 15 years, fueled in large part by an increase in Medicare patients.

A report from Health Affairs released Monday revealed the opioid death rate in hospitals more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2014, despite the number of overall hospitalizations related to opioids remaining relatively flat. The death rate of patients from other drugs also remained largely unchanged over this period. The death rate increase is due to a shift in the nature of opioid hospitalizations, reports CNBC.

Hospitalizations for opioid poisoning rose over the researched period, while ones for opioid dependence or abuse fell. Patients increasingly came in with more serious addictions and exposure to substances like heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The researchers found in 2014 there were roughly 20.2 deaths per 1,000 hospitalizations related to opioids, up from only 4.3 per 1,000 hospitalizations in 2000.

Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor from Harvard Medical School who authored the report, found whites and low income individuals were the most likely to be hospitalized for opioid related conditions. Song noted that “people enrolled in Medicare, not those in Medicaid, accounted for the fastest-growing share” of hospitalizations from opioids.

“Medicare beneficiaries went from the smallest proportion of [opioid-related] hospitalizations in the 1990s to the largest share by the mid-2000s,” Song said in the report, according to CNBC.

Song says the troubling increase of opioid-related hospital deaths is driven by the national epidemic, which killed 64,070 Americans in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” Oct. 26, giving states hit hard by opioid addiction flexibility on how they direct federal resources to combat rising drug deaths.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 predicts the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.

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