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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Emergency Rooms and Prescription Drug Overdoses

New research indicates that how often a person visits an emergency room in a year can increase the risk of premature death. In fact, visiting the emergency room at least four times in one year increases the risk of dying from a prescription drug overdose, HealthDay reports.

"Emergency department visits may serve as an important window of opportunity for identifying patients at heightened risk of prescription drug overdose and for implementing evidence-based intervention programs," study senior author Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology, said in the news release. These actions include providing patients and their families with take-home naloxone (Narcan), a drug used to treat overdose, and drug treatment referral, he said.

In the state of New York, researchers analyzed data from more than 5,400 patients who went to ERs throughout the state between 2006 and 2010. The data indicated that patients with four or more ER visits in the past year were 48 times more likely to die from a prescription drug overdose. People who went three times in one year were 17 times more likely to die from a prescription drug overdose than those who visited once or not at all.

The research showed that people with highest risk were those with substance use disorders or other psychiatric disorders, according to the article. The researchers found others with the highest risk of dying from a prescription drug overdose included men, whites, and those ages 35 to 54.

“While ‘doctor-shopping’—the practice of visiting multiple health care providers to obtain controlled substances—has been shown to be associated with prescription drug overdose in many studies, our investigation demonstrates that the frequency of emergency department visits in the past year is a strong predictor of subsequent death from prescription drug overdose,” researcher Joanne Brady of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health said in a news release.

The findings were published in the Annals of Epidemiology.

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