Opioid Overdoses Skyrocket in Emergency Departments

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The US opioid epidemic is accelerating, with hospital emergency room visits for overdoses from drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers up 30 percent from 2016 to 2017, US officials said March 6.

In the Midwest alone, hospital visits for opioid overdoses rose 70 percent during that time, according to the March CDC report. Significant quarterly rate increases were seen from the third quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2017 in 10 states; rates decreased significantly in one state.

Substantial increases in overdoses were seen nationwide, said the report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In an interview with NPR, Acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat said more potent synthetic opioids may contribute to the geographic variation in opioid overdoses.

There is little sign that the opioid epidemic is slowing down, and emergency rooms across the country are bracing for another night of frantic lifesaving efforts to keep the victims alive.

"We saw, sadly, that in every region, in every age group of adults, in both men and women, overdoses from opioids are increasing", Schuchat says. Timely treatment with naloxone can reverse the effects of opioids.

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The fact that the report was only able to capture people who were hospitalized suggests that the grim toll may be much higher, because many people who overdose never go to the ER.

"Educating emergency department physicians and staff members about appropriate services for immediate care and treatment and implementing a post-overdose protocol that includes naloxone provision and linking persons into treatment could assist emergency departments with preventing overdose", the authors write.

"We know that up to 90 percent of people will relapse in the first year going through rehab", he said. Schuchat said they are hearing about many "innovative" strategies across the U.S.to provide help to people who need treatment.

Among the solutions is increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, which combines behavioral therapy with medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms, Shah said.

"We think that the number of people addicted to opioids is relatively stable". "Closer coordination between public health and public safety can serve to address changes in the illicit opioid supply and use of illicit opioids, which affects overdose rates", she continued.

Support the use of the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, which encourages using prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to inform clinical practice.