It’s easy to assume that after someone survives an opioid overdose, the danger is gone, but a new study shows that after an opioid overdose, survivors still have a high risk of dying in the following year, and it isn’t always because of the drugs.
The study, out of Columbia University’s Irvine Medical Center, is one of the first to study the causes of death of opioid survivors. It found that there was a surprising variety of causes of death for survivors in the first years.
The researchers conducted the study by looking at Medicaid records from 45 different states for 75,000 overdose survivors between 2001 and 2007. They found that 5,000 of those people, almost 4 per cent, died within the first year of their overdose.
Obviously, continuing drug use was the most common cause of death, with a quarter of deaths due to that, but the other 75 per cent were not directly drug related.
A surprising percentage of the survivors died of heart disease and cancer (13 and 10 per cent, respectively), which is substantially more than the rates of death for those diseases in non-addicts.
They also found that compared to non-addicts, overdose survivors were 30 times more likely to die of viral hepatitis and 25 times as likely to die of suicide. In fact, women who’d survived an overdose were almost 50 times as likely to die of suicide.
A lot of these diseases were caused by bad health habits commonly seen in opioid users: cigarette smoking, needle sharing, and untreated mental health issues.
The researchers say that as the number of opioid overdoses continue to increase, this kind of research is vital in being able to help survivors continue to live after an overdose.