Opioid Overdoses Don’t Scare Users Into Going Straight

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It would seem that one good thing about an overdose is that it might scare a drug abuser into going straight. New research shows that’s usually not the case, reports Philly.com. The number of people filling painkiller prescriptions in the six months after treatment for an opioid overdose declined about 10 percent, says a new study of Pennsylvania Medicaid records. Rates of medication-assisted treatment, considered the gold standard for opioid addiction, went up 12 percent. The findings signal “a relatively weak health-system response to a life-threatening event,” authors wrote.

For long-term users of opioids, many of them in denial of their addiction or terrified of painful withdrawal, landing in a hospital after an overdose provides a rare opportunity for health workers to get them into treatment. It also could be a time to reflect and perhaps act upon their near-death experience. Those are the theories. “We had hoped to see a greater response,” said study author Julie Donohue of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Low-income and disabled people covered by Medicaid often have multiple and more serious health conditions in addition to addiction, especially mental illness, and are at greater risk of a drug overdose. The number of overdoses that don’t end in death is difficult to estimate. Nearly 1.3 million Americans in 2014 were hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms for abuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin.

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