Opioid Addicts Just as Likely to Die as Heart Attack Patients

Man in a hospital

Most people, when they think of an opioid user, will think of an adult in their 20s or 30s, someone who, other than being an opioid addict, is relatively healthy. Meanwhile, when they think of someone suffering a heart attack, most people will think of an older person who probably has some chronic health problems.

Though they may be stereotypes, these views of opioid addicts and people who suffer heart attacks are often true. But even so, the key point that the new research reveals is that opioid addicts are in a much unhealthier condition as a result of their addiction and are at a much higher risk for death than most people would think. Given that heart attacks are a leading cause of death in the U.S., the fact that opioid addicts have the same fatality rate as heart attack patients should serve as a serious wake-up call of just how dangerous opioid addiction is.

New Information Sheds Light on Fatality Risks

A new study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine made alarming findings. Patients addicted to opioids are more than seven times as likely to be hospitalized than the general population. Furthermore, such individuals have about the same fatality rate even after surviving an overdose as patients who suffer a heart attack. That means, even if the addict survives their first overdose, they’re still at risk of dying from drugs and at about the same degree of risk as those who suffer heart attacks.

Doctor looking at the patient

The study looked at case records for about 6,600 Oregon hospital patients who received treatment between 2015 and 2017. For the hard facts, nearly 8% of opioid addicts who survived an overdose later died from another overdose within 12 months of hospital discharge. Coincidentally, about 8% of Americans who survive a heart attack will die from another heart attack within 12 months. And of those patients in the Oregon study who died within one year of discharge, 58% of the 522 deaths were opioid deaths.

The fact that opioid addicts experience such a high fatality rate, even though opioid overdoses are 100% preventable and opioid addiction is 100% treatable, indicates a lack of public awareness of this crisis. Quoting study co-author Dr. Honora Englander, an associate professor of medicine at OHSU in Portland, “We need systems that can address comprehensive needs of people with substance use disorder and serious medical illness.” She also said, “That means trauma-informed systems that destigmatize addiction to make health care systems more trustworthy and more effective for our patients.”

Dr. Englander also pointed out how crucial it is that public health systems recognize the epidemic of overdose deaths. “For heart attacks, hospital systems across the U.S. have universally accepted standards, metrics, and quality reporting that drives performance. The same should be true for opioid use disorder, where death rates are similar.” Dr. Englander’s point is direct and accurate. The U.S. has public health response measures for all major causes of death. When will our health systems catch up to the fact that overdoses are now one of those major causes of death?

New Data Finds Fentanyl is the Leading Cause of Death for Americans Ages 18 to 45

In light of the year 2020 marking the highest ever rate of fatal overdoses ever recorded and a 30% increase over 2019’s death toll, another organization compiled some concerning information, more painful indications that America is headed down a dangerous, lethal path of surging drug overdoses if the course is not corrected soon. According to Families Against Fentanyl, fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45.

It’s a shocking revelation that a drug would be the leading killer for young and middle-aged Americans. Not gun violence. Not traffic accidents. Not suicide, obesity, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, falls, workplace accidents, homicides, tobacco, or alcohol poisoning. But fentanyl—a pharmaceutical drug designed to treat severe pain.

Escalating Harm of Opioid Addiction in America


Sadly, the fact that fentanyl is the leading cause of death for young and middle-aged Americans is only the tip of the iceberg for the sheer harm caused by opioid addiction. That data point helps explain why the opioid crisis is now either on par or approaching par with the crisis of heart attacks in America. Other data points included below drive this point home further. For example:

  • Not only did overdose deaths surge 30% in 2020 over 2019’s figures, but overdoses in 2020 were almost 200% higher than the total number of overdoses in 2016, just a few years prior.
  • In 2016, 56,517 Americans died from drug overdoses. In 2019, 78,056 Americans died from drug overdoses. In 2020, 100,306 Americans died from drug overdoses.
  • Part of why opioid overdoses in the U.S. are becoming such a problem is because opioid trafficking into and through the U.S. is getting worse. For example, just in 2020, United States law enforcement organizations busted enough drug trafficking operations and seized enough fentanyl to give every American a lethal dose.
  • Comparing opioid overdose fatalities to heart attack fatalities is just one way to put the opioid epidemic into context. But there are other public health problems in the U.S. that overdoses can be compared to. For example, in 2016, drug overdoses killed about as many Americans as either car accidents or gun violence altercations did. But in 2020, drug overdoses killed more Americans than car accidents and gun violence combined.

For one more example, it is well known that the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the American people, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and shutting down major sectors of the economy and American life. And yet, though Covid-19 was broadly publicized as a serious public health threat for all Americans, opioid overdoses, mainly fentanyl overdoses, caused far more deaths among young and middle-aged Americans than Covid-19 did. According to another news source, Covid-19 killed about 59,000 Americans aged 18 to 45 in 2020. But just one opioid drug, fentanyl, killed 79,000 Americans between 18 and 45 in 2020.

The Need for Addiction Treatment

Drawing comparisons between drug overdose deaths and other causes of death is only valuable or noteworthy in that it helps people to realize just how severe America’s addiction epidemic is, that it rivals other major causes of death that have plagued Americans for generations. Drawing such comparisons also helps people see that opioid addiction is getting much worse, rising to the top of this nation’s leading causes of death quite rapidly.

Thankfully, there is a straightforward solution to preventing overdose deaths. When Americans who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction receive quality treatment at drug and alcohol rehab centers, they’re able to throw down the shackles of addiction and finally experience life anew. If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please ensure that they get help as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until they become just another statistic.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.