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Deaths after opioid-driven hospitalizations have quadrupled, new study says

Mel Evans/Associated Press/File

People who are taken to the hospital because of opioid-related conditions are four times more likely to die there now than they were in 2000, according to research from Harvard Medical School that sheds light on another impact of the abuse epidemic.

The researchers found that mortality in opioid-driven hospitalizations increased from 0.43 percent before 2000 to 2.02 percent in 2014, said the researchers, whose work is published in the December issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The researchers found that before 2000, most opioid-related hospitalizations were for dependence and abuse. In recent years, opioid poisoning and heroin poisoning, deadlier conditions, have become the major cause of opioid-related hospitalizations.


Researchers theorized that less serious overdoses are being treated in the field or the community.

They also theorized that the increase in opioid poisoning and heroin poisoning “could reflect the growing potency of heroin and the rising use of fentanyl, a drug that makes people sicker faster,” the medical school said in a statement.

The country is in the throes of an opioid crisis. Overdoses killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control has said.

Drug overdoses of all kinds have killed more than half a million people from 2000 to 2015. In 2015, opioid-related cases accounted for 63.1 percent of total overdoses.

In Massachusetts, opioid addiction claimed more than 2,000 lives in Massachusetts last year. Governor Charlie Baker recently proposed a package of initiatives aimed at boosting the state’s battle against addiction.

The Harvard Medical School study found that those admitted for opioid poisoning and heroin poisoning were more likely to be white, live in lower-income areas, be Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities, and be between the ages of 50 and 64.

“As the United States combats the opioid epidemic, efforts to help hospitals respond to the increasing severity of opioid intoxication are acutely needed, especially in vulnerable and disabled populations,” study senior author Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health care policy at the medical school, said in a statement.


Martin Finucane can be reached at Martin.Finucane@Globe.com