Federal data: More people visiting ER for opioid overdoses

Division of Public Health Director, Dr. Karyl Rattay. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Delaware emergency room visits for opioid overdoses more than doubled from the third quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2017, new data reveal. From July 2016 to September 2017, opioid overdoses in the First State rose 105 percent, a startling number that indicates the state’s fight against addiction still has a long way to go.

According to numbers released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delaware saw the number of emergency room visits related to opioids jump from 296 from July through September 2016 to 596 for the same period the following year.

Delaware also reported the second-highest change for opioid-related emergency room visits among the 16 states participating in an enhanced data examination program. From July 2016 to September 2017, the state saw 2,075 trips to the emergency room believed to stem from opioid overdoses.

Nationwide, ER visits for someone who overdosed on opioids increased 30 percent over that time span.

Nearly three-quarters of the 2,075 suspected opioid-related emergency department visits were in New Castle County. Three hundred fifty-five were in Sussex County, and 191 were in Kent County.

The state had 308 overdose deaths in 2016, according to previously released information. The 2017 numbers are not yet final.

Statistics from 16 states in the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance Program indicate Wisconsin, which saw visits climb 109 percent, was the only state impacted more by this metric. Pennsylvania also saw a large increase.

The data show cities were hit hardest.

State health officials noted the CDC report does not use the state rates per 100,000 overdose-related deaths, which the Department of Health and Social Services referred to as a “more stable measure of increases and decreases over time.”

“Emergency department data can point to alarming increases in opioid overdoses, and clearly we are concerned about the increases here in Delaware,” Division of Public Health Director Karyl Rattay said in a statement. “The report’s findings highlight the need for enhanced prevention and treatment efforts in EDs, including offering overdose prevention education, naloxone and related training for patients, family members, and friends, initiating buprenorphine in the ED and linking patients to treatment and services in the community as needed.”

Officials need to do more to work across county and state lines to coordinate stopping and treating opioid use, DPH said.

As more and more people have fallen victim to painkillers and heroin, Delaware has taken steps in recent years to treat addiction as a disease rather than a crime. More money has been invested in treatment facilities, and officials have placed strict limits on how many painkillers patients can receive from doctors.

The Division of Public Health is holding a forum for first responders and emergency department personnel Tuesday to spread information about its system of care, a coordinated plan that resembles the one used for trauma, pediatric and stroke programs. That gathering will take at Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus.

“Partnerships, organized into a system of care, will strengthen and expand efforts, providing better patient experience and outcome system-wide,” Dr. Rattay said. “We will also use the opportunity to encourage emergency responders at all levels to provide all-important and extremely critical connections to treatment resources for patients in crisis.”

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