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ICU Costs Rise as Opioid Overdoses Soar

ICU Costs Rise as Opioid Overdoses Soar

September 27, 2017

Medical Research

The Philadelphia Inquirer – As intensive-care unit doctors struggle to save patients who have overdosed on opioids, hospital costs for their emergency treatment are swiftly rising. Overdose-related ICU admissions in Pennsylvania nearly doubled between 2009 and 2015.

Dr. Lena Novack

The study by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Harvard University and the University of Chicago reports that between January 1, 2009 and September 31, 2015, opioid overdose-related ICU admissions rose on average about 34 percent.

Dr. Lena Novack, a lecturer in BGU’s School of Public Health, assisted in reviewing discharge data from 4,100 ICU admissions for overdose at 162 hospitals in 44 states.

Focusing mostly on urban medical centers, this was the first study to measure the impact of opioid abuse on critical care resources nationwide. For overdose patients, critical care is complicated by the variety of situations.

Some patients who are quickly revived on-site with emergency reversal medication often refuse to go to the hospital. Others who stop breathing can suffer serious brain damage, as did eight percent of overdose patients in the ICU studied by the report.

The data from Pennsylvania and 43 other states suggest that heroin has become a far more dangerous challenge, at least in the ICU, than prescription painkillers, with which most new heroin users started. For the last several years, mortality in the ICU from prescription painkiller-related overdoses has remained more or less flat, while nearly tripling among patients who were admitted after a heroin overdose.

For survivors, complications such as aspiration pneumonia and lung infection lengthen the stay in the ICU from seven to 10 days—with a cost that rose 58 percent over a six-year period.

“The findings represent a growing and urgent call for additional critical care resources and expanded primary prevention strategies,” say the researchers.

“In conclusion, early recognition for states with rising crises — such as Pennsylvania — may allow for early action in these areas to both prepare critical care units for the needs of this population, and to better equip frontline providers to prevent these critical care admissions from occurring.”

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