Characterization and Management of Patients with Heroin versus Nonheroin Opioid Overdoses: Experience at an Academic Medical Center

Kate M. Morizio, Regan A. Baum, Adam Dugan, Julia E. Martin, Abby M. Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Study Objectives: To characterize the differences between patients who had heroin and nonheroin opioid overdoses and to determine whether there were any significant differences in their management with regard to the naloxone use. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: Large academic medical center. Patients: A total of 923 patients admitted to the medical center who were identified for overdose by heroin or other opiate-related narcotics between January 2010 and September 2015; 480 patients experienced a nonheroin opioid overdose event, and 443 patients experienced a heroin overdose event. Measurements and Main Results: Patients presenting with heroin overdose tended to be younger and male, with higher rates of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection compared with those presenting with nonheroin opioid overdose (p<0.05). Patients in the heroin group were also more likely to have a previous overdose event, history of injection drug use, and history of prescription opioid abuse compared with the nonheroin group (p<0.05). Those presenting with heroin overdose were more likely to receive naloxone in the prehospital setting (p<0.05) but were less likely to receive naloxone once admitted (p<0.05). Patients with nonheroin opioid overdoses required more continuous infusions of naloxone (p<0.05) and admission to the intensive care unit (p<0.05). Of all 923 patients, 178 (19.3%) had a repeat admission for any reason, and 70 (7.6%) were readmitted over the course of the study period for another overdose event with the same drug. The proportion of patients presenting with a heroin overdose steadily increased from 2010–2015; the number of patients presenting to the emergency department with nonheroin opioid overdoses steadily decreased. As rates of heroin overdose increased each year, the incidence of HCV infection increased dramatically. Conclusion: This study indicates that the incidence of heroin overdoses has significantly increased over the last several years, and the rates of HCV infection 4-fold since the start of the study period. Patients admitted for nonheroin opioid overdose were more likely to be admitted to the hospital and intensive care unit compared with those admitted for heroin overdose. The rise in overdose events only further illustrates a gap in our understanding of the cycle of addiction, drug abuse, and overdose events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)781-790
Number of pages10
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Pharmacotherapy Publications, Inc.


  • academic medical center
  • heroin
  • naloxone
  • opioid overdose
  • overdose demographics
  • prescription opioid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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