New Study Shows Medication-Based Treatment After Opioid Overdose Can Save Lives

image of prescription drugsSurvivors of opioid overdose have a higher risk of death than individuals who have not experienced an overdose. Effective strategies to lower that risk are critically important to combatting the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) are one potential strategy, but research about the effect of medication use on survival after an overdose is limited. To address that gap, a team led by researchers from Boston University, an NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program hub, reviewed medical records for more than 17,500 adults who had survived an opioid overdose. The goal was to determine whether survivors who received medications for OUD were less likely to die from another overdose within the next 12 months, compared with survivors who did not receive treatment.

CTSA Program funding supported statistical analysis for the study, which also included support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study included all three medications currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat OUD: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. The results, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that survivors who received methadone were 59 percent less likely to die from another opioid overdose and that those who received buprenorphine were 38 percent less likely to die. Naltrexone treatment showed no significant effect on survival.

Only 30 percent of the survivors in the study received medication-based treatment following overdose. The results demonstrate a strong link between the use of medications to treat OUD and a reduced risk of overdose death. These findings can help inform effective approaches to save more lives from opioid overdose. Learn more about this study.

Posted June 2018