Study Links Opioid Abuse To Increased Cardiac Arrest Risks

Amid continuing concerns about the risk of opioid overdoses and addictions, the findings of a new study suggests users taking narcotic painkillers like Vicodin may also face an increased risk of suffering a cardiac arrest.

Researchers from the University of New England analyzed hospital records for cardiac arrest patients from 2012 to 2018, including more than 1.4 million hospitalizations that occurred across the country. Approximately 3% of the cardiac arrests involved opioid use, including roughly 43,000 people, suggesting there may be significant increases in opioid-related cardiac arrests over the seven year study period.

According to their findings, roughly 57% of opioid users who suffered in-hospital cardiac arrest died, compared to 61% among non-opioid users. The rates were nearly equivalent.

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The opioid epidemic continues to worsen in the US, largely driven by doctor overprescribing. As doctors continue to offer strong narcotic painkillers to patients who don’t need them and are rewarded by drug companies for doing so, more Americans become dependent and addicted.

Among cardiac arrest patients, some risk factors were higher for opioid users. Roughly 17% of opioid users also abused alcohol, while 7% of non-users were alcoholics. About 19% of opioid users suffered from depression, compared to 9% of non-users and 37% of opioid users were smokers, while 22% of non-users were smokers.

By 2018, opioids were linked to the same number of cardiac arrests as all other reasons combined.

Some people may be surprised that side effects of opioids may damage the heart. However, the dangers of opioids are not limited to addiction, but also can cause a spasm of the coronary arteries, rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure, the researchers noted.

Cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack, although many people think they are the same. During a heart attack, the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. During cardiac arrest, the heart malfunctions and suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. While both are serious conditions requiring medical attention, cardiac arrest is more serious and can turn fatal if help is not administered within a few minutes.

This study was observational, so it does not clearly prove cause and effect. However, the findings suggest the opioid epidemic in the US may have contributed to an increasing number of cardiac arrests.

The researchers determined the other risks of opioid use, like cardiac arrest, should be communicated to the public, including educational campaigns to the public and school-age children who may be susceptible to first-time use. In fact, one-quarter of US adults with chronic pain used opioids in the past three months.

Opioid use disorder, including dependence and addiction, affects more than 2 million people in the United States. Opioid overdose is the leading cause of death among people ages 25 to 64 and accounts for nearly 70% of all drug overdose deaths in the country.

The study was presented Monday at the virtual annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology. The findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer reviewed journal.

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