Study Finds Elevated Death Rates Shortly After Hospitalization for Substance Abuse

A new study finds elevated rates of suicides and overdose deaths in the month after people have been released from the hospital for substance abuse treatment. Researchers found death rates were substantially higher for those who had been out of the hospital for less than one month, compared with those who had been out for at least one year.

The study of almost 70,000 people who had been treated for some type of substance abuse found overdose deaths and suicides were most common during hospitalization, Reuters reports. Even after discharge, the death rates remained high, the article notes. In the first month, there were 21 drug-related deaths per 1,000 people each year, compared with 4.2 per 1,000 people a year or more later.

“Like prison-release, hospital discharge marks the start of a well-defined period of heightened vulnerability for drug-treatment clients,” Elizabeth Merrall of the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge wrote in the journal Addiction.

According to Dr. Patrick G. O’Connor of the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, some drug users may start binging once they are released from the hospital, or may lose some of their drug tolerance in the hospital, which makes it easier to overdose.

Hospitalization may not be enough for some people struggling with substance abuse, he noted. They also may need jobs, housing and psychiatric care. “For drug users who leave the hospital, we need to be able to provide instantaneous and tight linkages for these patients to at least three services: primary care services, social services and drug treatment services,” he noted.

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    Peter Wolczuk

    September 7, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    While it’s best to avoid getting caught up in a lot of sidetracks, I think that the study could give a few specifics. How’s the survival rate for those who have been given information and positive encouragement about attending support groups which have formerly addicted members who have experienced complete abstinence? Members who can offer themselves as living evidence that, when years of drug numbed emotions wake up in a flurry, these confused memories can be survived by turning to others who have survived the same problem. Support groups whose members did not buy into having one foot in the hope of becoming free from addiction and the other in the hopelessness of using a half measured and softer escape from reality called “harm reduction”

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    Fred C

    September 6, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    the second paragraph says, “overdose deaths and suicides were most common during hospitalization.” Should it have said after hospitalization?

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    Howard Josepher

    September 6, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    There is no doubt that the quick linkages to support and care for addicts leaving hospitals and prisons would prevent some suicides and accidental overdoses. It would also be a good time to do some research and possibly learn how we could be more helpful to those individuals in their most vulnerable moments.

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    Sharon Dembinski

    September 6, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    This is no suprise! Do we routinely teach Harm Reduction while a pt is hospitalized? I seriously doubt it. I’d like to know which substance was related to the majority of deaths. I bet it was opioids and I bet the majority of pts who died were not referred to either buprenorphine or methadone treatment.

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    Gail Chmielewski

    September 6, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    The “study” is a no brainer that those working in treatment have known without a study for 50 years! Detox is NOT treatment. If detox was followed by residential treatment maybe this individuals may recovery and LIVE!!!!!!!

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