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Headshot of Neal Chatterjee
A Medic One ambulance in the Emergency Department bay at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
November 7, 2023

Not all overdose-related cardiac arrests are the same

A study of Seattle and surrounding King County finds that cases involving opioids combined with stimulants are on the rise and highly lethal.
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Faculty Research

The incidence of overdose-related cardiac arrests more than doubled in King County, Washington, from 2015 to 2021, with the biggest increase among people who had consumed opioids combined with stimulants, according to a new study. That drug profile was also the most lethal among four profiles evaluated.

Dr. Neal Chatterjee, associate professor (Cardiology) is lead author of the paper published today in JAMA Network Open. 

Chatterjee and colleagues found that King County’s incidence of overdose (OD) related out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) had more than doubled during the six-year span, with no corresponding increase in the incidence of OHCA not involving OD.

The study found that OD-related OHCA involving a combined opioid and stimulant had grown to as high an incidence rate as opioid-alone. Chatterjee said this finding lends context to the drumbeat of reports characterizing opioids, in particular fentanyl, as the main public health threat.

“I think our study provides important context when counseling and caring for individuals who use illicit drugs,” Chatterjee said. “For example, recent qualitative survey data suggests that some of what may be driving an increase in mixed illicit drug use is the misperception that stimulants can improve the safety of, or enhance the high associated with, depressants such as opioids.