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Drug overdose survivors more likely to die of subsequent overdose: study

May 19, 2016 - 6:02 AM

VANCOUVER - British Columbia researchers have determined a straightforward method for health-care professionals to effectively identify people at a heightened risk of dying from a future drug overdose.

Scientists at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS revealed those who have recently survived a non-fatal overdose are more likely to die from a subsequent overdose.

The study's senior author, Dr. Kanna Hayashi, described the research as the first of its kind because it found the risk of death from an overdose increases significantly with each non-fatal overdose experienced.

"(This) shows that there are some people who could be in a unique position to easily identify people who are most at risk of fatal overdose," Hayashi said.

"Someone like a front-line health-care worker, or social worker, who may be interacting or managing people who have overdosed, can have a really important opportunity to provide intensive overdose-prevention interventions."

The study was released five weeks after B.C. declared a state of emergency in response to a surge in drug-related overdose deaths across the province.

There have been more than 250 overdose deaths across the province in 2016.

The emergency declaration allows medical workers to collect more robust real-time data about overdoses, which provides provincial officials with important information to better target intervention measures.

Dr. Seonaid Nolan is an addictions specialist with the research centre and she described the study as especially timely given the government's emergency measures.

"The primary, take-home message from the study itself is that we now know that the simple screening of patients can really lead to the identification of people who are at really high risk for dying from a potential drug overdose," Nolan said.

This research will also likely help inform Canada's pending overdose prevention strategy, she added.

While the study's conclusion may appear intuitive, having clear and quantitative data lays the groundwork to establish what is known and allows doctors to communicate with their patients about the risk of continued drug use.

"It can often be a very motivating factor for patients to reflect on their drug-use patterns and motivate them to actually seek addiction treatment," she said.

The study highlights the effectiveness of a single screening question from front-line health-care workers in identifying a significant risk factor for an overdose fatality and address it, Nolan said.

More research is needed to better understand what intervention methods are the most effective, Hayashi said.

So far, some of the approaches used are dispensing the drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, and providing overdose-prevention counselling.

The Centre for Excellence is located in Vancouver and is Canada's largest HIV-AIDS research, treatment and education facility.

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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