Mass. study challenges assumptions on risk of overdose death from legitimately prescribed opioids

Only 1.3% of overdose deaths in Massachusetts from 2013-2015 were correlated with a current opioid prescription

One of the first studies to correlate opioid overdose deaths with a state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) information on legitimately prescribed opioids was published in Public Health Reports by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, and the Boston Health Department and summarized in this news article. The new detailed study of nearly 3,000 overdose deaths between 2013 - 2015 in Massachusetts found that few of the overdose deaths had just the current opioid prescription present. Key toxicology findings included:

  • Multiple drugs were present in most overdose deaths, including heroin (61%) and fentenyl (45%)
  • 16.5% of overdose deaths had only a prescription opioid present
  • Only 1.3% of overdose deaths had a legitimate prescription for the opioid based on PDMP data records

This shows that patients with a legitimate opioid prescription were at extremely low risk of overdose death. The balance of prescription opioid deaths are assumed to be due to diversion, theft, leftover medication, or by someone not prescribed and under appropriate medical supervision.