Overdoses on methadone and other prescription opioids were responsible for 67.8% of ER opioid visits, while heroin and other nonprescription drugs made up the remainder of overdoses, Stanford researchers found.
"Opioid overdose exacts a significant financial and health care utilization burden on the U.S. health care system," the researchers wrote, noting that emergency and inpatient care for the patients in their study neared $2.3 billion.
"Most patients in our sample overdosed on prescription opioids, suggesting that further efforts to stem the prescription opioid overdose epidemic are urgently needed," they said.
Most prescription opioid overdoses - 84.1% - occurred in cities. Almost half - 40.2% - of ER visits for prescription opioid overdoses were in the South, and 53% of patients were women.
The authors also noted that many overdose patients shared mental health, circulatory and respiratory problems, and suggested that prescribers only recommend opioids in conjunction with counseling.
But the death rate from opioid death in an emergency room was small - just 1.4%. The authors said they think this suggests that medical intervention works well in stopping overdoses from leading to death.
Every day, 114 people die from a drug overdose in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, 1 in 20 people reported using their prescriptions nonmedically. The CDC calls prescription opioid overdoses "a public health epidemic."
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