CDC Declares Emergency Department Visits an Early Warning System Against the Opioid Epidemic

Emergency department (ED) visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased 35 percent across 16 states from July 2016 to September 2017, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In total, the CDC found more than 140,0000 suspected opioid overdose ED visits across 52 jurisdictions in 45 states, which represents about 60 percent of EDs nationwide. All five U.S. regions experienced increases, with EDs in the Midwest showing the highest increase (70 percent) and EDs in the Southeast the lowest (14 percent). Only five states (KY, MA, NH, RI, and WV) showed decreases. Substantial rate increases were also found for every demographic group, whether by sex (30 percent for men and 24 percent for women) or by age, with the highest increase (36 percent) affecting people ages 35–54.

Because EDs are often on the front line for treating opioid overdose victims, the CDC emphasized, they represent a vital role in prevention efforts. “Research shows that people who have had an overdose are more likely to have another. Emergency department education and post-overdose protocols, including providing naloxone and linking people to treatment, are critical needs,” said Alana Vivolo-Kantor, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

In addition to highlighting the preventative role of EDs, the CDC report also focuses on coordinating community response. The report urges communities to use the improved data reporting functions funded by the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance Program to more effectively target prevention and response efforts. For example, in Georgia in 2017, emergency physicians identified counterfeit Percocet pills as the source of a spike in overdoses. The local health department, poison center, and law enforcement agencies then combined their efforts to alert the community and successfully contain the overdose outbreak.

To read the Vital Signs report, click here: