Although providers and federal and state agencies have increased their efforts to curb the opioid epidemic, new data released Tuesday shows that emergency department visits related to opioid overdose have increased across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that emergency department rates have risen in all five regions of the country from 2016 to 2017, jumping 30% in 52 jurisdictions across 45 states in the same time frame. Data was taken from the CDC's National Syndromic Surveillance Program, which covers 45 states; it recorded 91 million ED visits in that period, with 142,557 being suspected opioid overdoses.
Acting CDC Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said emergency departments play a vital role in connecting patients with proper treatment. She suggested emergency clinicians should intervene to prevent repeat overdoses by administering medication-assisted treatments such as buprenorphine and naltrexone. In addition, individuals could also serve as navigators to follow up with overdose patients and help connect them with recovery care after they have been discharged, she said.
The data obtained from EDs is already being used to help local and state health departments as well as other stakeholders better identify where resources are needed.
The ED should refer the patients to other caregivers who can address their longer-term needs, Schuchat said during a call with reporters on Tuesday. "We think that emergency departments are essential hubs in this fast-moving epidemic."
Midwestern states experienced a 70% rise in such cases during the study period, while Western states had a 40% increase. Opioid overdose-related ED visits rose by 21% in the Northeast, 20% in the Southwest, and 14% among Southeastern states.
A total of 16 states saw opioid-related ED visits increase by as much as 35%, according to the report, accounting for more than 119,000 of the more than 142,000 incidents that occurred nationally from July 2016 through September 2017.
Ten states saw significant increases over the study period. Delaware and Pennsylvania, where the impact of the opioid crisis has been well-publicized over the past several years, ED visits related to opioid overdoses increased by 105% and 81%, respectively.
But Wisconsin saw the largest one-year rise in such cases, with opioid-related ED visits increasing by 109% from 2016 to 2017.
Notably, states that have been associated with being the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic were among a handful of states that experienced decreases. Kentucky had the fifth-highest drug overdose death rate in the country at 44 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2016, but experienced the largest decrease in opioid-related ED visits of any state during the study period at 15%.
New Hampshire, which had the third-highest mortality rate from drug overdose in 2016 had a 7% drop in ED visits from opioid overdoses, while the number of such cases fell by 5% in West Virginia between 2016 and 2017, despite that state leading the nation in drug overdose deaths at a rate of 55 deaths for every 100,000 in 2016.
It's unclear whether those drops stemmed from the states' work to curb the opioid addiction epidemic or if they were statistical fluctuations.
Nearly 64,000 people died in 2016 due to opioids with nearly two-thirds involving prescription opioids, heroin, fentanyl or some combination of those drugs. Opioid-related overdose deaths rose by 27% between 2015 and 2016.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams during the call reiterated the Trump administration's priorities in addressing the crisis, including decreasing the supply and demand of opioids.
The administration has faced criticism from addiction experts regarding its handling of the opioid epidemic. Advocates say they haven't seen much action from the White House since President Trump first declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in October. There have also been fears that the administration is seeking to focus more on law enforcement than treatment.
Appearing at the opioid summit on Thursday, Trump suggested implementing the death penalty to drug dealers.
"You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty," Trump said. "These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them. We need strength with respect to the pushers and the drug dealers. Some countries have a very, very tough penalty—the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do—so we're going to have to be very strong on penalties."
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