A new study finds an increasing number of patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) are leaving the hospital before finishing treatment, against medical advice.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found the rate of patients with OUD who left the hospital early increased from 9.3% in 2016 to 17% (approximately one in six) in 2020, WHYY reports. In contrast, less than 2% of patients in the general population are discharged against medical advice.
Study author Dr. Ashish Thakrar said the growth in early discharge rates is occurring at the same time as the rapid spread of fentanyl. “There is an expectation a lot of them have that they will have untreated withdrawal, that they’ll have undertreated pain,” he said. “Many of them have had, frankly, stigmatizing experiences from health care providers who might be well intentioned, but who ultimately make a lot of these individuals feel like they don’t belong there.”
Patients who leave the hospital early are at higher risk of being readmitted or dying within 30 days, he said. For people who use substances and have an infection, the risk is especially high, Dr. Thakrar said.