Opioid Abusers Face Increased Mortality From Infectious Diseases, Suicide, Overdoses: Study
Abusing opioid painkillers not only poses a serious risk of overdose, but individuals may also be more likely to suffer infections or die from suicide and other diseases, according to the findings of a new study.
People who used narcotic painkillers illicitly had higher rates of suicide, unintentional injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other infectious diseases, all leading to early death, according to research published last week in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Australian researchers analyzed 124 studies published January 1, 2009, to October 3, 2019. The data included more than 1.2 million people across 28 countries who used pharmaceutical opioid painkillers outside of prescriptions, as well as heroin and other illicitly manufactured opioids.
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The death rate among illicit opioid users was higher than people in the general population who did not use illicit opioids, but were the same age and sex. Overall, illicit users of opioid drugs had much higher risks of noncommunicable diseases, infectious diseases, suicide and unintentional injuries than people in the general population.
Drug overdose was the most common cause of death among opioid abusers. Opioids account for nearly 70% of all overdose deaths in the U.S. Among those who use opioids illicitly, 32% of deaths are due to poisoning or substance related reasons. However, 24% of deaths are from noncommunicable diseases, 20% are from infectious diseases, and 18% are caused by trauma.
Opioid abusers also had a suicide death rate eight times higher than normal and a rate of experiencing death from unintentional injury that was seven times higher. While experiencing death from interpersonal violence wasn’t common, the risk for opioid abusers was still nine times higher than normal.
The study also indicated deaths due to AIDS are not reducing over time among opioid abusers. In the general population deaths from AIDS are decreasing due to better treatments, but that isn’t the case for people who use illicit narcotic painkillers.
A recent study had similar findings regarding infections. People who inject opioids have higher risks of bacterial heart infections. Even those who don’t inject the drugs face increased risks of suffering fractures and early death from trauma.
The new study indicates illicit opioid users also face a higher death risk from smoking related illnesses, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as from car accidents, assaults and other causes of injuries at much higher rates than usual.
The researchers warned that while overdose prevention is important among opioid abusers, health care professionals should also focus on preventing death from other outcomes and reducing the risk in other areas as well.
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