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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

Opioid Addiction the Most Lethal of All

Opioid addicts are 5.7 times likelier to die than they would be, a study finds.

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Now America's most dangerous drug.
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By Valerie Tejeda

04/19/12

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If you've ever wondered which drug puts the most addicts six feet under, wonder no more: opioid addicts have a higher risk of death compared to other drugs and alcohol addicts, according to new research. The study—conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence—tracked more than 800,000 individuals hospitalized for drug abuse between 1990 and 2005. Of those studied, more than 188,000 died during the research period. Those who were addicted to opioids were 5.71 times more likely to die than healthy individuals. Meth addicts came in second with a 4.67-fold risk, followed by marijuana (3.85), alcohol (3.83) and cocaine (2.96). The findings show that if 10 people in the general population die, then there would be 57 deaths over the same period of people addicted to opioids—including heroin and prescription opioids. "One reason for undertaking this study was to examine whether methamphetamine posed a particular threat to drug users, as it has been called 'America's most dangerous drug,'" explains Dr. Russell Callaghan, the CAMH Scientist who led the study. "The risk is high, but opioids are associated with a higher risk. We also wanted to compare mortality risks among several major drugs of abuse, as this comparison hasn't been done on this scale before." Overall, alcohol dependence affected the highest number of people with 166,482 deaths and 582,771 hospitalizations over the research period.“One surprising finding was the high rate of death among cannabis users," says Dr. Callaghan. "There could be many potential reasons, including the fact that they may have other chronic illnesses such as psychiatric illnesses or AIDS, which can also increase the risk of death."

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