Most overdoses now taken to ER are for painkillers

In line with the painkiller addiction problem affecting a growing number of American communities, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine finds around 68 percent of emergency hospital visits from overdoses are due to prescription opioid overdoses.

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine recorded the number of opioid overdoses from diagnostic codes in the 2010 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. They found 135,971 ER visits were classified as opioid overdoses. These were broken down into 67.8 percent from prescription opioids, 16.1 percent from heroin, 13.4 percent from unspecific opioids, and 2.7 percent from multiple opioid types.

Additionally, researchers found 84.1 percent of prescription opioid overdoses occurred in urban environments. More than 40.2 percent were in the South and 53 percent involved women. Luckily, only 1.4 percent of the hospital visits ended in deaths. This may reflect that emergency staffs are learning how to better handle drug overdoses and medical intervention for overdoses.

Several comorbidities were found in those who overdosed, including mental illness, circulatory, and respiratory diseases. Researchers recommended patients work through counseling and other care first before resorting to the painkiller pills. The scientists also estimated that the overall health care costs from these hospital visits were $2.3 billion.

The study also noted that these results do not include all opioid overdoses, since many go unreported.

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