Examining a national database of health insurance claims, researchers found that 91 percent of patients who suffered a nonfatal overdose of prescription opioid painkillers continued getting prescriptions for opioids following the overdose. And, the researchers found, overdose survivors who kept taking high dosages of an opioid—including morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone—were twice as likely to have another overdose within two years.
The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, follow news earlier this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that drug overdoses, opioid overdoses in particular, have reached epidemic levels. The fact that patients surviving opioid overdoses are still being prescribed opioids is “highly concerning,” the authors of the new study wrote.
In a press release, lead author Marc LaRochelle of Boston Medical Center said that "[t]he intent of this study is not to point fingers but rather use the results to motivate physicians, policy makers and researchers to improve how we identify and treat patients at risk of opioid-related harms before they occur."