Researchers highlight dangers of opioids in hospitalized patients

Sharma's research featured in Annals of American Thoracic Society

The opioid crisis is a major public health issue with over 47,000 deaths reported due to overdose in 2017 alone. However the impact of narcotics in hospitalized patients is less known. A team of researchers lead by Sunil Sharma, M.D., Section Chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine & Director of WVU's MICU & Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine Program Development, recently reported that patients admitted for congestive heart failure had a high likelihood of receiving opioids during their hospitalization (41%) resulting in escalation of care.

The study shows that 26% of the high risk patients with heart failure and undiagnosed sleep apnea who received opioids required urgent transfer to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) during their hospitalization as opposed to only 4% of those not receiving opioids.

The study appears in the current issue of the Annals of American Thoracic Society Journal and highlights the unrecognized dangers of opiates/ narcotics in a hospitalized setting. Opioids can precipitously drop oxygen level especially in presence of unrecognized sleep apnea.

The authors recommend screening of high risk population for sleep apnea in hospitalized settings and judicious use of narcotics along with non-invasive ventilation support to improve patient safety in hospitalized patients.