News & Commentary

Hospital Deaths From Opioids Soar

Mortality rates for inpatient hospitalizations for opioid abuse quadrupled between 2000 and 2014, according to a study published in the December 2017 issue of Health Affairs. The mortality rates increased from 0.43% before 2000 to 2.02% in 2014.

The study throws more light on deaths related to the American opioid epidemic. In 2016, 15,000 Americans died from heroin overdoses and 20,000 others died from overdoses from synthetic opioids, according to the CDC.

Zirui Song of Harvard Medical School and the sole author of the study examined data from the National Inpatient Sample of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The stratified sample from about 20% of hospitals in the country included about 1.9 million hospitalizations related to opioids, about 19 million related to misuse of other drugs, and about 794 million from all other causes.

Song identified a shift from hospitalizations due to opioid dependence or abuse to hospitalizations for opioid or heroin poisoning. Hospitalizations for opioid dependence or abuse declined by 0.01 per thousand people per year while those for opioid and heroin poisoning collectively grew on average by 0.01 per thousand people per year, he says in the study.

He also found that Medicare beneficiaries went from the smallest proportion of these hospitalizations in the 1990s to the largest share by the mid-2000s.

About 60% of Medicare recipients hospitalized for opioid or heroin poisoning were younger than 65.

“The fact that Medicare beneficiaries—the majority of whom were younger than age 65—accounted for the fastest-growing and largest share by payer for hospitalizations for opioid and heroin poisoning is consistent with increased opioid use among disabled Medicare beneficiaries,” Song states.