Death Rates Increase After Hospital Release Following Substance Abuse

Death Rates Increase After Hospital Release Following Substance Abuse

Immediately after finishing treatment for substance abuse, many patients find it difficult to reenter the life they led previously without the presence of the addictive substance. In treatment programs, therapy often involves learning new responses to situations in which the patient would ordinarily have turned to the substance.

For many patients, relapse occurs quickly following a hospital stay. Patients may find that the behaviors they attempted to redirect had been in place for too many months or years to overcome.

Patients leaving a hospital stay for substance abuse treatment are at a heightened risk for relapse, but a new study finds that they are also at a heightened risk for death following release. The relapse may lead to a drug overdose or suicide.

The study finds that in the month following hospital release, those treated for substance abuse have an elevated rate of suicide and overdose. When a patient had been out of the hospital for a minimum of a year, the death rates were considerably lower.

The study focused on an examination of records for 70,000 individuals who had been treated for substance abuse. The researchers found that deaths related to overdose and suicide were most common while the patient was hospitalized. After discharge, however, the rate of death remained elevated.

The analysis of the records showed that during the first month following discharge, there were 21 drug-related deaths for every 1,000 people released each year, and the number drastically declined to 4.2 deaths per 1,000 people when a year or more had passed.

Elizabeth Merrall of the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge explained in the journal Addiction that the release from the hospital for substance abuse treatment is a time of significant vulnerability for patients. She likened the transition to the time following a prison release, in which an individual is at a heightened risk for crime.

Experts in the field explain that the release can lead some patients to binge once they have been discharged. Alternatively, some patients may experience a difference in their drug tolerance following a hospital stay, making them more at risk for overdose.

Hospital treatment is one part of the puzzle for helping substance abuse patients recover. However, there are other pieces of life that, if in place, may help an individual be more successful in abstaining from the substance.

The individual may require help in finding a job, housing and ongoing care from a therapist who can help them navigate life without the substance. Experts say that the provision of primary care, social services and continuing drug treatment can make a major difference in whether the patient continues to abstain.

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