Suspected opioid overdoses increased 30 percent in one year, CDC report says

The CDC's updated tracking system shows the rise in overdoses.

March 6, 2018, 5:12 PM

The opioid epidemic shows no signs of leveling off, as the most recent report covering most of the U.S. shows an average 30 percent rise in suspected overdoses, in just one year.

Between July 2016 and September 2017, the suspected opioid overdoses across 45 states increased by an average of 30 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the surprising statistics in the report: The problem holds true for both men and women, across different age spans, races and regions.

In the time period studied, 15.7 per 10,000 emergency room visits were for opioid overdoses. The largest increases were in the Midwest –- a 70 percent rise -- and the West, with a 40.3 percent hike.

The new figures are based on an updated tracking system that helps hone in on the correct number of opioid-related cases faster, the CDC said. The agency now uses emergency department statistics, in addition to hospital billing data.

"Long before we receive data from death certificates, emergency department data can point to alarming increases in opioid overdoses,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. "This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States."

More detailed data was collected in 16 states. In large metropolitan areas, the data showed a 54 percent increase in suspected opioid overdoses, although increases were noted in rural centers, as well. Two states showed more than a 100 percent increase in opioid ODs, including Delaware, at 105 percent, and Wisconsin at 108 percent. The next highest levels were in Pennsylvania, at 80 percent higher, and Illinois which rose 65 percent.

There was some good news; some states showed lower rates of opioid overdoses. Two states that have had historically high rates, Kentucky and West Virginia, showed lower numbers of emergency department visits.

"Kentucky saw a decrease of 15 percent ... which may reflect some fluctuations in drug supply," Schuchat said today.

Northeastern states such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island showed lower emergency room visits, but there is not enough data to know if local interventions were the reason.

In short, the opioid epidemic is not plateauing, and the CDC said these numbers point to a need for enhanced prevention and treatment efforts in emergency departments.

Rapid data that is increasingly available from emergency departments can serve as an efficient way to alert local communities if there is a rise in overdoses.

Because those who have experienced a past overdose are more likely to overdose again, the emergency departments can also use this data to target high-risk patients and connect them to case managers and community resources for substance use disorders.

"To successfully combat this epidemic, everyone must play a role," U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, said.

The CDC recommends that local health departments should stock enough naloxone for first responders to reverse an overdose and that public safety and law enforcement should coordinate with local public health officials in high drug trafficking areas. The agency also suggests that community partnerships can help provide treatment.

Dr. Najibah Rehman is a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit.

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