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A new study finds elevated rates of suicides and overdose deaths in the month after people have been released from the hospital for substance abuse treatment. Researchers found death rates were substantially higher for those who had been out of the hospital for less than one month, compared with those who had been out for at least one year.

The study of almost 70,000 people who had been treated for some type of substance abuse found overdose deaths and suicides were most common during hospitalization, Reuters reports. Even after discharge, the death rates remained high, the article notes. In the first month, there were 21 drug-related deaths per 1,000 people each year, compared with 4.2 per 1,000 people a year or more later.

“Like prison-release, hospital discharge marks the start of a well-defined period of heightened vulnerability for drug-treatment clients,” Elizabeth Merrall of the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge wrote in the journal Addiction.

According to Dr. Patrick G. O’Connor of the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, some drug users may start binging once they are released from the hospital, or may lose some of their drug tolerance in the hospital, which makes it easier to overdose.

Hospitalization may not be enough for some people struggling with substance abuse, he noted. They also may need jobs, housing and psychiatric care. “For drug users who leave the hospital, we need to be able to provide instantaneous and tight linkages for these patients to at least three services: primary care services, social services and drug treatment services,” he noted.


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