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J Emerg Med. 2015 Dec;49(6):871-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2015.06.035. Epub 2015 Sep 26.

Emergency Visits for Prescription Opioid Poisonings.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.



Prescription opioid abuse and overdose has steadily increased in the United States (US) over the past two decades, and current research has shown a dramatic increase in hospitalizations resulting from opioid poisonings. Still, much is unknown about the clinical and demographic features of patients presenting to emergency departments (EDs) for poisoning from prescription drugs.


We sought to evaluate ED visits by adults for prescription opioids.


This was a retrospective cohort study utilizing 2006-2011 data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. Total number of admissions (weighted), disposition, gender, age, expected payer, income, geographic region, charges, and procedures performed were examined.


From 2006 through 2010, there were 259,093 ED visits by adults for poisoning by opioids, and 53.50% of these were unintentional. The overall mean age of patients was 45.5 years, with more visits made by females (52.37%). Patients who unintentionally overdosed were more likely to have Medicare (36.54%), whereas those who intentionally overdosed had private insurance (29.41%). The majority of patients resided in the South (40.93%) and came from lower-income neighborhoods. Approximately 108,504 patients were discharged, and 140,395 were admitted.


There were over 250,000 visits to US EDs from 2006 through 2011 with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by a prescription opioid. Females made the majority of visits, and over half were admitted to the hospital, resulting in over $4 billion in charges. Future studies should examine preventative measures, optimal screening, and intervention programs for these patients.


emergency medicine; opioid; overdose

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