Patient deaths among opioid-driven hospital stays in the United States quadrupled between 1993 and 2014, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

Physician and Assistant Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School Zurui Song analyzed nearly 385,000 hospital stays involving patients admitted for opioid use with data from the National Inpatient Sample of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project.

Song found that four times as many patients were dying from opioid-related causes in the hospital, climbing from 0.43 percent before 2000 to 2.02 percent by 2014.

Before 2000, most opioid hospitalizations were for opioid dependence and abuse, but recently even deadlier opioid poisoning and heroin poisoning became the leading cause of opioid-related hospital admissions.

A closer look into patient demographics revealed that patients admitted for opioid poisoning and heroin poisoning were more likely to be white, between the ages of 50 and 64, live in lower-income areas and be Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities.

What’s responsible for the deaths once patients arrive at the hospital? Song said there is no definitive answer, but there are a few possible explanations.

Patients with less severe opioid overdoses may be more likely to be treated in the field by first-responders, in community clinics or with the life-saving drug Naloxone, which could mean hospitals are admitting more patients who “are higher risk and more severe.”

Additionally, the increase in opioid poisoning and heroin poisoning could be attributed to the rapid rise of and potency of fentanyl and heroin, substances that are much cheaper than prescription opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64,000 people in 2016 died from drug overdoses. Of those overdose deaths, more than half were caused by heroin: 20,000 were caused by synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, and 15,000 were caused by heroin.

The study illuminates the disturbing reality of a country in the throes of the opioid epidemic. By identifying the most vulnerable, disadvantaged populations, Song hopes the study will further raise awareness and motivate hospitals to adopt more effective strategies when treating patients admitted for opioids.

There’s a grave need for effectively opioid treatment throughout the United States. With three treatment facilities in South Florida and one opening this spring in New Jersey, Guardian Recovery Network is on the front lines actively working to put an end to the opioid epidemic. We provide specialized services that help people safely detox and recover from opioid addiction once and for all.

Contact a Guardian Recovery Specialist at 877-831-2533 to learn more about how our addiction services can help you or someone you love.