OHSU study found patients with opioid use disorder die at rates similar to heart attacks after discharge


Patrick Jones


A recent study conducted by Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) found that hospitalized patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) died at similar rates as those who were hospitalized for heart attacks 12 months after discharge. Researchers said hospitals should have universally accepted standards and practices to treat OUD. 


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The OHSU researchers reviewed data from 6,654 Medicaid patients who were treated in 62 different Oregon hospitals between April 2015 and December 2017. The study was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. 

The study found that almost 8% of patients with OUD died within the first 12 months after being discharged. Of the 522 patients who died, 58% were drug-related deaths. The other deaths were not drug-related, including diseases of the circulatory, endocrine, or respiratory systems. 

The one-year death rate after discharge of 8% is the same as conditions like acute myocardial infarction, known as a heart attack. Honora Englander, M.D., senior author of the study and associate professor of medicine at OHSU School of Medicine said hospitals should create agreed upon treatments to assist OUD patients in the hospital. 

“For heart attacks, hospital systems across the U.S. have universally accepted standards, metrics, and quality reporting that drives performance. The same should be true for opioid use disorder, where death rates are similar.”

The authors of the study said their findings highlight the need for higher quality care in hospitals and health systems and show the need to improve health systems patients with behavioral health issues. Englander said:

“We need systems that can address comprehensive needs of people with substance abuse disorder and serious medical illness. That means trauma-informed systems that de-stigmatize addiction to make health care systems more trustworthy and more effective for our patients.”

Caroline King, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an OHSU student said health systems need to better integrate and de-stigmatize the medical care these patients need to stay healthy after the hospital visit. She said health systems can start by expanding access to proven addiction medications like methadone and buprenorphine. 

Englander said:

“It should be easier to access methadone than heroin. Right now, that is not the case — systems are such that people have to work so hard just to get life-saving treatment.”

A 2019 study showed that of all Oregonians with substance abuse disorder, only 40% received needed services, which included outpatient (68%), residential (29%), or a service delivered in a primary care setting (19%).