High Mortality Rates for Addicts Treated in the Healthcare System: Why Specialized Addiction Treatment is Necessary

Recent research has shown that there is an alarmingly high mortality rate for addicts treated in the general healthcare system. This research insight makes at least one thing clear: specialized addiction treatment is more necessary than ever. With this in mind, the major question addressed here is: why is the mortality rate for addicts so high, and what can be done about it?

The high mortality rate for addicts treated within the healthcare system is only compounded by other behavioral issues (such as tobacco and alcohol use or high-risk sexual behavior) and associated health problems (including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and respiratory issues). Clearly, addiction to any kind of substance should not be taken lightly. Substance abuse disorders – including everything from heroin addiction to alcoholism – are extremely dangerous if they go untreated. Thankfully, there are many treatment options for addiction. Professional treatment for addiction has been shown to be effective in getting those struggling with addiction onto the road to recovery. Relapse rates are similar to those of any other chronic disease; however, specialized addiction treatment reduces the high mortality rate associated with addiction.

“The strong association of illicit drug use with other prominent causes of mortality, as well as its contribution to significant chronic health problems, renders it one of the most fundamental mortality risks. The statistics are staggeringly clear: individuals with a drug dependence diagnosis die on average 22.5 years earlier than those without such a diagnosis. Furthermore, mortality in the subgroup of individuals with substance use disorders who enter substance abuse treatment is three or more times higher than that in the US population as a whole. Our findings suggest the need to shift the addiction treatment field form an acute care model to a chronic disease management paradigm and the need for more aggressive screening, intervention, and addiction management over time.”

~ Dr. Christy K. Scott and associates, writing in the American Journal of Public Health

The research study highlighted above already makes it clear that specialized addiction treatment can reduce the mortality associated with substance addiction. While there may be a range of factors contributing to the effectiveness of specialized addiction treatment, the primary reason is simply because this form of treatment is better able to provide specific interventions and long-term addiction management. In other words, specialized addiction treatment is necessary because it meets those struggling with substance use disorders where they are.

Research Insight: Higher Mortality Rates for Addicts Treated in the Healthcare System

It is relatively well known that drug addiction and abuse can lead to overdose deaths, therefore leading to a high mortality rate among those who struggle with any form of substance abuse disorder. The mortality rates for addicts are startling: in the United States, at least 100 people die from a drug overdose each and every day. The addiction mortality rate is 1.5 people dying as a direct result of drug use for every 100,000 deaths. There is only one conclusion to be drawn from these statistics: lowering mortality rates for addicts is a crucial public health concern in the United States.

Unfortunately, entering in the general healthcare system may actually result in a higher mortality rate for addicts than other treatment options. According to a recent research report, opioid use disorder patients in a general healthcare setting saw a higher than average mortality rate. In other words, having a substance abuse disorder places patients within the general healthcare system at a higher risk. The details of this research report are quoted here.

“Elevated mortality has been observed among individuals with opioid use disorder treated in addiction specialty clinics or programs. Information about opioid use disorder patients in general healthcare settings is needed in light of the current effort to integrate addiction services into primary healthcare systems. This study examined mortality rates, causes of death, and associated risk factors among patients with opioid use disorder in a large general healthcare system. Patients with opioid use disorder in a general healthcare system demonstrated alarmingly high morbidity and mortality, which challenges healthcare systems to find innovative ways to identify and treat patients with substance use disorder.”

~ Dr. Yih-Ing Hser and associates, writing in the Journal of Addiction Medicine

Out of the thousands of patient case files included in the study, drug overdose and drug disorder accounted for nearly twenty percent of the deaths in the study. But even that is not the full picture. Other causes of death were directly tied to substance abuse. For instance, Hepatitis C (which can be contracted through drug use) and alcohol use disorder were strong indicators of mortality risk. Similarly, patients who exhibited a tobacco use disorder showed an increased risk for nearly every other health condition included in the study, from cancer risk to cardiovascular problems. The specifics of this research article provides two core insights:

1)     Patients who suffer from substance abuse disorders face a much higher mortality rate within the general healthcare system than patients who do not have any kind of addiction at all.

2)     Statistics like those presented here provide clear evidence for why specialized addiction is necessary for effective treatment and rehabilitation of those struggling with a substance abuse disorder.

Substance use disorder may be a chronic disease, but it often requires both behavioral and medical intervention for effective treatment. This is where specialized addiction treatment comes in for lowering mortality rates for addicts.

The Importance of Specialized Addiction Treatment

Each and every case of substance abuse and addiction is completely unique, with no two cases being exactly identical. This means that it is critical that addiction treatment programs should not be identical either. In a general healthcare setting, many physicians do their best to address the needs of addicts that come into their care. However, very rarely are the principles of effective treatment fully realized in this setting. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these principles include the following elements in treating addiction and cases of substance abuse:

1)     Addiction is a complex disease, affecting both the brain and one’s behavior.

2)     There is no single treatment approach that is always appropriate for everyone.

3)     Effective treatment addresses all of the psychological and physical needs of the individual – not just the drug abuse.

4)     Behavioral therapies – such as individual or group counseling – are common and effective forms of drug abuse treatment.

5)     Medications can be an important element of addiction treatment for patients, particularly when combined with behavioral therapy.

6)     Effective addiction treatment must be continually assessed and modified depending on the needs of the individual.

7)     Detoxification is just the first step of addiction treatment, and is not guaranteed to change long-term drug abuse.

“Several studies suggest that case management services increase client retention, improve clients’ occupational and social functioning, and ameliorate their psychiatric symptoms. Addiction-focused services and supplemental social supports are necessary for effective, long-term rehabilitation. Case management for pregnant women enrolled in specialized women’s outpatient substance abuse treatment included regular phone calls and home visits, written referrals to social service agencies, staff advocacy for clients’ with social service agencies, and free transportation to and from treatment. Case management and transportation services were significant predictors of retention in drug treatment.”

~ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

So what is specialized addiction treatment and rehab, how does it fit into treating addiction in the healthcare system, and how does it contribute to lowering mortality rates for addicts? The treatment itself is what it sounds like: drug detox and drug rehab that is tailored to the individualized needs of each and every patient that comes into the treatment program. From medical detox to one-on-one counseling, specialized addiction treatment programs implement all of the elements of effective treatment identified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse above. This kind of treatment can take the form of both residential rehab and intensive outpatient treatment programs.

The reason specialized addiction treatment is essentially synonymous with effective addiction treatment is that it tailors detox and rehab to the needs of each and every individual. According to SAMHSA, specialized addiction treatment is effective because it focuses in on the needs of the individual. This reduces the mortality of those participating in drug treatment altogether since it gives them the individualized attention that they need to recover.

The core of this post is that recent research clearly shows that specialized addiction treatment is needed within the healthcare system. Engaging these programs in the general healthcare system is key to lowering mortality rates for addicts. If you have a thought to share about the alarmingly high mortality rates for addicts treated in the healthcare system, or questions about why specialized addiction treatment is necessary, feel free to either contact us or leave a comment in the section below.


Christy Scott. (2011, April). Surviving Drug Addiction: The Effect of Treatment and Abstinence on Mortality. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052346/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64094/

SAMHSA. (2016). Services in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64094/

Yih-Ing Hser. (2017, April). High Mortality Among Patients with Opioid Use Disorder in a Large Healthcare System. Retrieved from: http://journals.lww.com/journaladdictionmedicine/Abstract/publishahead/High_Mortality_Among_Patients_With_Opioid_Use.99558.aspx

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By |2017-07-05T18:40:17+00:00July 28th, 2017|

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Northpoint Recovery is the premier drug and alcohol rehab, detox, and treatment facility in the Northwestern United States.

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