Background: Drug users who are leaving/completing inpatient medication-free treatment may, like drug users released from prison, have an elevated risk of dying from fatal overdoses. This is mainly explained by their low drug tolerance.
Methods: Two hundred and seventy-six drug users who had been admitted to 11 inpatient facilities in Norway, were followed prospectively after discharge from treatment during an 8-year period (1998-2006). The following instruments were used: EuropASI, SCL-25 and MCMI II. Information on deaths and causes of death were obtained from the National Death Register.
Results: A total of 36 deaths were registered after discharge from treatment during the observation period, of which 24 were classified as overdose deaths. During the first 4 weeks after discharge six persons died, yielding an unadjusted excess mortality of 15.7 (rate ratio) in this period (CI 5.3-38.3). All were dropouts and all deaths were classified as opiate overdoses. There was no significant association between time in index treatment and mortality after discharge, nor did any background characteristics correlate significantly with elevated mortality shortly after discharge.
Conclusions: The elevated risk of dying from overdose within the first 4 weeks of leaving medication-free inpatient treatment is so dramatic that preventive measures should be taken. More studies from similar inpatient programmes are needed in order to obtain systematic knowledge about determinants of overdose deaths shortly after leaving treatment, and possible preventive measures.
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