Surviving traumatic injury, only to die of acute drug poisoning: Should trauma centers be a path for intervention?

Surgery. 2021 Oct;170(4):1249-1254. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2021.03.003. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


Background: Although death from drug overdose is a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, its incidence after traumatic incident is unknown. Moreover, little is known about related risk factors. We sought to determine the incidence and characteristics of and risk factors for trauma patients suffering death by acute drug poisoning ("overdose") after hospitalization for a traumatic incident.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of all admitted trauma patients ≥18 y of age at the only level-1 trauma center in our region from 2012 to 2019, matched with unintentional overdose decedents from the California death registry. We assessed associations between demographic and clinical characteristics with risk of overdose death, using cumulative incidence functions and Fine-Gray subdistribution hazard models.

Results: Of 9,860 patients residing in San Francisco, CA, USA, at the time of their trauma activation or admission during the study period, 1,418 died (4.3 per 100 person-years), 107 from unintentional overdose (0.3 per 100 person-years). Overdose decedents were 84% male, 50% white, with a mean age of 48 years at the time of presentation; 20% of deaths occurred within 3 months of hospitalization, and 40% were attributed to a prescription opioid. In multivariate analysis, younger age, male sex, white race, and having undergone a urine drug screening were all associated with subsequent death from overdose.

Conclusion: During a mean 3.4-year follow-up, the mortality rate from overdose among adult patients with traumatic incidents was 0.3/100 person-years. Trauma hospitalization may serve as an opportunity to screen and initiate prevention, harm reduction, and treatment interventions.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Drug Overdose / etiology
  • Drug Overdose / mortality*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • San Francisco / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality*