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New 10-year analysis indicates 48.9% increase in opioid-related hospital admissions

A new analysis of hospital patient data in England over 10 years, published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, shows opioid-related admissions increased by 48.9 per cent, from 10,805 admissions in 2008 to 16,091 admissions in 2018, with total treatment costs of £137 million.

The increase was 21 per cent above the corresponding rate for all other emergency admissions in England and 40 per cent higher than those due to alcohol or other illicit drugs.

The study, which was led by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Barcelona, looked at hospitalisation from the harmful use of opioids including prescription pain killers, such as tramadol and fentanyl, and illegal drugs such as heroin.

The analysis shows that hospitalisations increased most for individuals older than 55 years (160 per cent), those living in the most affluent areas of England (93.8 per cent), and those suffering from four comorbidities (627.6 per cent) or more.

Death caused by an overdose in opioid users aged 15 to 64 rose by more than 20 per cent between 2011 and 2016, but incidences have since stabilised to around 2,000 deaths per year. According to the researchers this could be attributed to efforts to reverse trends of opioid-related mortality, for example through increasing community access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone.

They say that mortality statistics likely mask an important aspect of harmful opioid use nationally, as most high-risk individual frequently require access to hospital services.

Dr Rocco Friebel, Assistant Professor of Health Policy at the LSE, commented: “We observed marked rises in hospitalisations between 2010 and 2013, mostly driven by opioid poisoning. This could be an effect caused by cuts to welfare support, causing rising levels of unemployment, poverty and related effects such as homelessness.”

He added that opioid misuse and poisoning may also reflect changes in opioid prescriptions in England. Even though prescribing trends have flattened in the past five years, the strength of prescribed opiate drugs has increased successively.

“Despite progress in addressing opioid-related mortality in England, the detrimental effects of harmful opioid use on population health, the NHS and public finances remain substantial”, added Dr Friebel. “A more systematic approach is required to target people at risk from harmful use of opioids.”

Notes to editors

Trends and characteristics of hospitalisations from the harmful use of opioids in England between 2008 and 2018: Population-based retrospective cohort study (DOI: 10.1177/01410768221077360) by Rocco Friebel and Laia Maynou, will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05 hrs (UK time) on Friday 4 February 2022.

The link for the full text of the paper when published will be:

For further information or a copy of the paper please contact:

Rosalind Dewar

Media Office, Royal Society of Medicine

DL: +44 (0) 1580 764713

M: +44 (0) 7785 182732


The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) is a leading voice in the UK and internationally for medicine and healthcare. Published continuously since 1809, JRSM features scholarly comment and clinical research. JRSM is editorially independent from the Royal Society of Medicine, and its editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.

JRSM is a journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and it is published by SAGE Publishing.

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne.

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