Alarming rise: Drug overdose-related cardiac arrests skyrocket

The number of drug overdose-related cardiac arrests (OHCA) more than doubled from 2015 to 2021, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

For the study, a team of eight researchers worked with a medical examiner to analyze the toxicology reports of nearly 7,000 cardiac arrest patients in Washington state. What they found is alarming. The incidence of drug-related OHCA increased significantly from 5.2 per 100,000 people in 2015 to 13.0 per 100,000 people in 2021. The number of non-drug related cardiac arrests during that time remained fairly steady.

The study highlights that the most significant surge in cardiac arrests was observed among people who had consumed a combination of opioids and stimulants. Even more distressing, the study found that patients who overdosed on this mixture were not only more common, but also faced higher death rates. 

“Only one-third of those with combined stimulant-opioid OHCA survived to hospital discharge compared with the approximately 50% of patients with other OD OHCA profiles and non-OD OHCA who survived,” study authors wrote.

Opioids included fentanyl, heroin, hydromorphone, methadone, opium, codeine and oxycodone. Stimulants included amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine.

“Urgent public health resources and initiatives are needed to better understand, provide treatment for, and prevent combined stimulant-opioid OHCA,” the study said.

This study builds upon earlier research this year, which linked illicit drug use to nearly one in three sudden cardiac deaths among young adults.

These findings unfold in the backdrop of the United States grappling with its most devastating drug epidemic in history, marked by a staggering toll of around 111,000 Americans lost in just one year.