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30% rise in drug-related ER visits shows crisis worsening

Staff and wire
March 07. 2018 8:18PM

More than 142,000 people were taken to emergency departments for opioid overdoses during a recent 15-month period, a dramatic rise and the latest sign that the drug epidemic continues to worsen despite the efforts of public health authorities.

The 142,557 emergency visits in 45 states marked a nearly 30 percent increase between July 2016 and September 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday. In 16 states that have suffered high rates of overdose deaths, the jump was even higher, at 34.5 percent. No region or demographic group was spared, and two states Wisconsin and Delaware — saw overdose visits to their emergency rooms more than double.

The data represent yet another dismal sign that efforts to curb the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history have not taken hold in most of the country. And unlike the annual tally of overdose deaths, which lag by a year, they provide more evidence that the crisis continues to head in the wrong direction. Nearly 64,000 people died of drug overdoses, two-thirds of them from opioids, in 2016.

“The bottom line,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s acting director, “is that no area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic.”

She added that the emergency room data show that “for every fatal case, there are many more nonfatal cases, each one with its own personal and economic toll.”

The data also confirmed again that the drug crisis, which started in rural America with the diversion of hundreds of millions of prescription painkillers to the black market, has struck cities hard, probably because of the increase in the use of the street drugs heroin and fentanyl.

New Hampshire, which tracks hospital emergency department visits, saw a spike in opioid-related visits last fall, peaking in October.

According to data from the state Division of Public Health Services, the rate of such visits rose to 49.46 per 100,000 population last October, up from 44.27 the previous month. The previous November, there were 41.64 such visits per 100,000 residents. The rate had dropped to 33.98 last February but had continued to rise through last year.

Tricia Tilley, deputy director of the state Division of Public Health, said overdose deaths may make headlines but they are “just the tip of the iceberg.” And hospitals are on the front lines of the battle against the ongoing epidemic here, she said.

“Often we have these overdose visits at the emergency department, and it really has this tremendous impact on families and the health-care system itself,” she said. “And within the emergency department, we not only have to work with the individual and their family to stabilize them and try to get them access to treatment, but also to treat the rest of their health-care needs.”

Hospitals in Strafford County had the most hospital emergency visits per capita last October, 7.98 per 100,000. Hillsborough County was next, with 6.28 per 100,000, followed by Merrimack with 5.89 and Sullivan with 5.03. The age group with the highest number of opioid-related emergency department visits that month was individuals 30 to 39 years old, with 38 percent of all such visits.

In addition to overdoses, the data also includes other opioid-related problems such as poisonings, withdrawal and detox, according to the state.

New Hampshire Sunday News reporter Shawne K. Wickham and The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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