CDC: Illinois ERs see 66 percent spike in opioid overdoses
The CDC encouraged hospitals to do more to combat outbreaks and prevent repeat overdoses
By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
WASHINGTON — Illinois emergency rooms experienced a 66 percent jump in opioid overdose visits last year, according to a new report that suggests the epidemic of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse is worsening in some states.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released state emergency room data Tuesday in a report that encourages hospitals to do more to combat outbreaks and prevent repeat overdoses.
The report found opioid-related emergency room visits rose an average of 35 percent across 16 states between July 2016 and September 2017. The increase was worst in the Midwest and in large metropolitan areas.
In the Midwest, Wisconsin saw a 109 percent jump in suspected opioid overdose visits. Visits rose 35 percent in Indiana, 28 percent in Ohio and 21 percent in Missouri.
Data from emergency room visits, rather than overdose deaths, is useful because they show when and where people are overdosing, information states can use to identify where resources are needed, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting CDC director, in a conference call Tuesday with reporters. An ER visit also is a time when people can get help before their drug use kills them.
"We don't have to wait until it's too late," Schuchat said.
The report found that urban centers saw a greater increase in overdose visits than rural areas, which have traditionally been seen as the hardest hit by the nation's opioid epidemic.
Schuchat said that could reflect changes in the drug supply in urban centers like Chicago, where the practice of cutting heroin with fentanyl has exacerbated drug toxicity. But it could also be a statistical anomaly given that the data was from just 16 states.
After the Midwest, where opioid overdose visits rose an average of 70 percent, the largest regional increase was in the West, where the rise was 40 percent.
In the Northeast, opioid overdose emergency room visits rose by 105 percent in Delaware and 81 percent in Pennsylvania. But some states that historically have had the worst opioid problems, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, experienced statistically insignificant decreases in overdose visits.
In the Southeast, which at 14 percent had the lowest regional increase in overdose visits, Kentucky reported a statistically significant decrease of 15 percent.
It isn't clear if that's because those hard-hit states have been devoting resources to tackle the problem for longer and are seeing success, or because their rates were so high that they couldn't get higher, Schuchat said.
"We hope that it's a positive sign that will persist," she said. But, she later added, "whether we are seeing real, true persistent declines or they are statistic fluctuations, we just don't know yet."
While the report is "concerning," Schuchat said there is opportunity to forge partnerships between hospitals, law enforcement and community groups to address the crisis.
Among the CDC's recommendations are: to alert communities to overdoses seen in emergency rooms and coordinate a timely response; to increase distribution of naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses, to first responders and community members; to increase access to mental health services and medications that assist with opioid addiction; and to support harm-reduction programs such as screening for needle-related diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C.
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