On May 7, 2020, the National Institute of Health issued a press release highlighting the findings of a new data analysis, which they had funded, and which had been published in the American Jour-nal of Preventative Medicine. The striking discovery found that patients who visited the emergency department for an opioid overdose are 100 times more likely to die by drug overdose in the year after being discharged. The findings also indicate that these individuals were 18 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Additionally, patients who visited the emergency room for a sedative/hypnotic overdose, died by drug overdose in the year following the emergency room visit at a 24 times higher rate than the general population. These individuals died by suicide at a rate 9 times higher than the general population.
Dr. Sidra Goldman-Mellor, Ph.D., who is the lead study author states, “We knew that nonfatal, opioid and sedative/hypnotic drug overdoses were a major cause of disease. What these new findings show is that overdose patients also face an exceptionally high risk of subsequent death-not just from an unintentional overdose, but from suicide, non-suicide accidents, and natural causes.”
In order to compile their data, the research team examined discharge records for all emergency department visits in California between 2009 and 2011. They then matched death records from the state of California, between 2009 and 2012, to these emergency department visits and came up with these important findings. Dr. Goldman-Mellor does recommend that the findings be replicated in other parts of the U.S. using more recent data, as patterns of opioid and sedative/hypnotic use (and related mortality) have changed over time.
Despite the need for further study, the data does indicate the importance of emergency department interventions. Emergency department personnel need ongoing training on how to intervene with patients who have experienced a drug overdose. Making referrals to either drug and alcohol or mental health treatment providers and patient follow-up could be instrumental in saving lives. The data on mortality a year after presenting to the emergency department is also important information for: treatment providers, doctors, nurses, and individual mental health providers so that they can continue to assess for suicidality, health problems, and potential for overdose.
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If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Preven-tion Lifeline at, 1-800-273-8255(TALK) or “Text” STRENGHT to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to