Objective: U.S. opioid overdoses increased nearly sixfold from 1999 to 2018, and greater than 1% of all emergency medical services (EMS) encounters now involve naloxone administration. While "treat and release" protocols may have low short-term mortality, the risk of subsequent non-fatal overdoses is not known. This study compares the risk of repeat overdose encounters between patients transported to an emergency department (ED) and those who refused transport after prehospital naloxone administration. Methods: All EMS charts within a large single-tier fire-based urban EMS system between January 1 and August 31, 2018 were reviewed if either naloxone administration or a clinical impression related to opioid overdose was documented. Charts were excluded if there was no documented evidence of an opioid toxidrome (respiratory depression or altered mental status), if there was another clear explanation for the symptoms (e.g., hypoglycemia), or if naloxone was not administered. Ten percent of charts were reviewed by a second author to assess reliability. Cox regression (survival analysis) was used to estimate the risk of a subsequent EMS encounter with naloxone administration following an index encounter with naloxone administration. Results: Of the 2143 charts reviewed, 1311 unique patients with 1600 overdose encounters involving naloxone administration were identified. Inter-rater reliability for chart inclusion was strong [κ = 0.83 (95% CI: 0.72-0.90)]. Police/bystanders administered naloxone in 208/1600 (13.0%) encounters. A substantial proportion of encounters resulted in transport refusal (674/1600, 42.1%). The final Cox model included only refusal vs. acceptance of transport to an ED during the index EMS encounter. Patient age, gender, and naloxone administration prior to EMS arrival were not statistically significant in univariate or multivariable analyses, nor were they significant confounders. Refusal of transport was associated with a hazard ratio of 1.66 (95% CI: 1.23-2.23) for subsequent EMS encounters with naloxone administration. Conclusions: Non-transport after prehospital naloxone administration is associated with an increased risk of subsequent non-fatal overdose requiring EMS intervention. Limitations include the use of a single EMS agency as patients may have had uncaptured overdose encounters in neighboring municipalities.
Keywords: EMS; drug overdose; naloxone; treatment refusal.