Opioid Deaths in ICU Have Nearly Doubled Since 2009

Debra Shute, August 14, 2017

Research findings confirm the problem’s severity, concluding that opioid-related demand for acute care services has outstripped the available supply.

The same day President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency, the Annals of the American Thoracic Society published a study believed to be the first to quantify the impact of opioid abuse on critical care resources in the United States.

The findings confirm the problem’s severity, concluding that opioid-related demand for acute care services has outstripped the available supply. 

According to the analysis conducted by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s (BIDMC) Center for Healthcare Delivery Science, overdose-related intensive care unit (ICU) admissions jumped 34% nationally from January 1, 2009, to September 31, 2015.

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What's more, the average cost of care per ICU overdose admissions rose by 58%, from $58,517 in 2009 to $92,408 in 2015 (in 2015 dollars). Opioid deaths in the ICU nearly doubled during that same period. 

“This study tells us that the opioid epidemic has made people sicker and killed more people, in spite of all the care we can provide in the ICU, including mechanical ventilation, acute dialysis, life support and round-the-clock care,” said the study’s lead author, Jennifer P. Stevens, MD, associate director of the medical intensive care unit at BIDMC and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

Among the more than 4 million patients requiring acute care between 2009 and 2015 across 162 hospitals, 21,705 patients were admitted to ICUs due to opioid overdoses, Stevens and colleagues found using a national hospital database. 

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Meanwhile, opioid-related ICU admissions increased an average of more than half a percent each year over the seven-year study period; and patients admitted to ICUs after overdose required increasingly intensive care, including high-cost and complex renal replacement therapy or dialysis.

The mortality rates of these patients climbed at roughly the same rate, on average, with deaths of patients admitted to the ICU for overdose rising more sharply after 2012. 

Debra Shute

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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