Opioid and sedative/hypnotic drug overdoses are major causes of morbidity in the U.S. This study compares 12-month incidence of fatal unintentional drug overdose, suicide, and other mortality among emergency department patients presenting with nonfatal opioid or sedative/hypnotic overdose.
This is a retrospective cohort study using statewide, longitudinally linked emergency department patient record and mortality data from California. Participants comprised all residents presenting to a licensed emergency department at least once in 2009–2011 with nonfatal unintentional opioid overdose, sedative/hypnotic overdose, or neither (a 5% random sample). Participants were followed for 1 year after index emergency department presentation to assess death from unintentional overdose, suicide, or other causes, ascertained using ICD-10 codes. Absolute death rates per 100,000 person years and standardized mortality ratios relative to the general population were calculated. Data were analyzed February–August 2019.
Following the index emergency department visit, unintentional overdose death rates per 100,000 person years were 1,863 following opioid overdose, 342 following sedative/hypnotic overdose, and 31 for reference patients without an index overdose (respective standardized mortality ratios of 106.1, 95% CI=95.2, 116.9; 24.5, 95% CI=21.3, 27.6; and 2.6, 95% CI=2.2, 3.0). Suicide mortality rates per 100,000 were 319, 174, and 32 following opioid overdose, sedative/hypnotic overdose, and reference visits, respectively. Natural causes mortality rates per 100,000 were 8,058 (opioid overdose patients), 17,301 (sedative/hypnotic overdose patients), and 3,097 (reference patients).
Emergency department patients with nonfatal opioid or sedative/hypnotic drug overdose have exceptionally high risks of death from unintentional overdose, suicide, and other causes. Emergency department–based interventions offer potential for reducing these patients’ overdose and other mortality risks.