People who survive an opioid overdose are often prescribed the same dangerous drugs that had them one foot in the grave, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh say they have found significant evidence to suggest that opioid addiction is a vicious beast that is kept alive almost immediately after a drug overdose victim is released from their neighborhood emergency room.
The study, which was published in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that people treated in ERs for an opioid overdose are typically given access to the same types of painkillers that nearly led to their untimely demise.
“Sixty percent of those with a prescription opioid overdose filled a prescription in the six months after overdose for the very kind of medication that contributed to the overdose in the first place,” said senior study author Julie Donohue, an associate professor of health policy and management at the university’s Graduate School of Public Health.
To establish these results, researchers examined the opioid use of Medicaid patients in Pennsylvania from 2008-2013, giving specific attention to patterns that existed before and after an overdose. What they found was that most of the people who had nearly died as a result of an overdose on painkillers were back to using those drugs again within six months after being discharged from the hospital.
Researchers said very few cases (15 percent) resulted in the patients being prescribed medication-assisted treatment, like buprenorphine or methadone, to help them disconnect from a life of addiction.
The reason this is happening is hospital emergency rooms are not properly equipped to identify and handle patients with addiction issues. Most ERs simply provide overdose victims with the names of treatment options and instructions to schedule a follow-up visit.
Unfortunately, these discharge notes are rarely adhered to by drug-addicted patients, which makes them “quite vulnerable and…at great risk for future overdoses,” Donohue said.
According to NPR, some medical health professionals believe it is necessary for emergency room staff members to be trained in interventions for opioid addicted patients.
These types of programs include putting patients in direct contact with the appropriate rehabilitation center, and even going as far as to arrange for transportation to the facility once they are released from emergency care.
Studies show that patients who receive treatment immediately following an overdose are more likely to stay clean longer. Those patients who are simply guided toward the road to recovery through rehab pamphlets and phone numbers are far less likely to succeed.
Although there are plenty of ideas being discussed right now on how to curb the opioid epidemic in the United States, there is data to suggest that the mission is futile.
Earlier this year, a study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that almost 70 percent of those treated for opioid addiction would eventually start using again.
The study’s lead researcher Dr. G. Caleb Alexander says the reality is there is no “cure” for addiction, which means those “people with substance use disorders have a lifelong vulnerability” to the disease.
As it stands, millions of Americans are currently addicted to opioid medications, with at least 1,000 of them being treated in emergency rooms each day for an overdose scare.
A recent report from the New York Times showed that nearly 60,000 people died last year as a result of an opioid overdose—evidence that the nation’s drug problem is only getting worse.
Although many states are working to put limits on the amount of pain pills doctors can prescribe, there are still plenty of these medications being distributed to cause trouble.
With around 1.3 million hospitalizations taking place in 2014 alone as a result of misusing opioids, it makes sense that perhaps the next logical step in curbing this epidemic is to give emergency rooms more tools to intervene with patients who suffer addiction issues.