(Reid Wilson – The Hill) The number of Americans turning up in emergency rooms suffering from opioid overdoses has risen sharply in recent years, according to new federal data, as the size and scope of a devastating public health crisis evolves in ways officials say is difficult to combat.
Data released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased by 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017.
Rust Belt states have been hardest hit, with emergency room visits rising 108 percent in Wisconsin, 80 percent in Pennsylvania and 65 percent in Illinois. Indiana and Ohio also experienced substantial growth in overdose treatments.
While the crisis began in rural America among low-income whites, it has now moved into larger urban areas, where minority communities now account for the fastest growth among overdoses and deaths. Emergency room visits in large cities rose by 54 percent over the last year, the CDC data show.
“We often talk about the opioid epidemic as a singular epidemic. But if you look at it it’s actually two distinct epidemics going on simultaneously,” said Jon Zibbell, a senior public health scientist at RTI International, a public health nonprofit. “In some states, prescription opioids were driving the epidemic. In other states, illicit opioids are driving the epidemic. And in some states it’s both.”
Those watching the epidemic unfold say deaths caused by opioid overdoses will rise before they fall — perhaps dramatically.
Opioid overdoses killed an estimated 33,000 Americans in 2015, more than half the total number of deaths caused by drug overdoses, according to the latest data made available by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As recently as 2001, fewer than 10,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses.