People who abuse opioids are at an increased risk of overdose death, but they also have an elevated risk of dying from chronic diseases, infectious diseases, suicide and unintentional injuries, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Among people who use opioids illicitly, suicide deaths were nearly eight times the expected rate, deaths from unintentional injuries were seven times the expected rate, and interpersonal violence deaths were nine times the expected rate.

“People might be surprised that although overdose was the most common cause of death, it’s far from the only cause of death that people using opioids outside a prescription experience at excessive rates,” said Sarah Larney, the study’s lead author and senior research fellow at the University of New South Wales’ National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Australia.

Overdose remained the leading cause of death among illicit opioid users. But smoking-related illnesses including cancer and heart disease were also higher among this group, as well as unintentional injuries, such as from car accidents and assaults.

“To me, the most important message to take from this study is that we need to think beyond the drug,” Larney said. “People using opioids are people first and foremost and have complex health and social needs. Making sure people have access to essential medicines to treat HIV and hepatitis C; encouraging smoking cessation through access to nicotine replacement therapies; and ensuring access to nutritious food and safe shelter would all go towards reducing the death toll in this population.”

Lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section are looking at cases of serious injuries and illness – including addiction and overdose – related to opioid use and abuse. They are also looking at cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in babies born to mothers addicted to opioids. For more information, contact Melissa Prickett or Liz Eiland.

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