More people hospitalized for prescription drug overdose

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© Mark Weiss/Corbis

Between 1999 and 2006 the number of people hospitalized for poisoning from prescription drugs including opioids (such as OxyContin and Vicodin) and tranquilizers and sedatives (depressants such as Valium, Xanax and Ambien) has increased by 65%—representing nearly twice the increase in hospitalizations due to overdose with other substances during the same time period , according to new research published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Analyzing data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS), which accounts for some 8 million annual hospitalizations, researchers from West Virginia University and the University of Rochester determined that, during the period studied, intentional overdose on prescription opioids and depressants increased by 130%, while unintentional poisonings rose by 37%.During the seven-year study period, unintentional overdose with other substances increased by 21%, while intentional overdose with other substances grew by 53%.

Compared to patients admitted to the hospital for overdose with other drugs, researchers found that those hospitalized for opioid or sedative/tranquilizer-related poisoning were more likely to be women under age 34, were less likely to live in an urban area, and were more likely to have Medicare as their primary form of insurance. When they examined intentional versus unintentional overdose, the study authors found that men were admitted more frequently for accidental overdose, while women were more often hospitalized for intentional overdose. Those findings were consistent not only for opioid and depressant poisonings, but for all types of substance overdose.

The parallels between hospital admissions for drug overdose and growing numbers of death caused by overdose suggest that initial hospitalizations could provide an opportunity for intervention, the study authors suggest. In order to most effectively counter this growing trend of prescription drug abuse and overdose-related hospitalizations and death, the authors conclude, future research needs to examine “the contextual factors associated with these cases, and the association between hospitalization for prescription drug poisoning and subsequent fatal overdoses.”