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Opioid drug overdose deaths are down in Utah, but what about emergency visits?

Opioid drug overdose deaths are down in Utah, but what about emergency visits?

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SALT LAKE CITY — While opioid-related drug overdose deaths are down 15 percent in Utah, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a 30 percent jump nationwide in opioid-related drug overdose emergency department visits.

The report, a first in its kind that was released Tuesday, also notes the West region of the country, which Utah is a part of, experienced a 40 percent increase of opioid overdose hospital visits from July 2016 through September 2017.

The West, which includes 10 other states, experienced the second-highest spike among the five regions in the country listed in the report. Only the Midwest, at nearly 70 percent, had a bigger increase in the same timespan.

"We have an emergency on our hands. The fast-moving opioid overdose epidemic continues and is accelerating,” acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat told NPR. “We saw, sadly, that in every region, in every age group of adults, in both men and women, overdoses from opioids are increasing.”

The report breaks down some states’ individual emergency room visit statistics, though there wasn’t available data from Utah to compare. That’s because the state switched coding system for similar information to the data the CDC released between 2015 and 2016, and 2017 hospitalization data hasn’t come to the state yet, said Elizabeth Brutsch, drug overdose and violent death epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health.

However, the state will likely provide that information available in future CDC reports.

“While Utah’s data gets fed into this system used to generate these national measures, we are still kind of refining our ability to work with that particular data,” Brutsch said.

The quarterly rate of suspected opioid overdose, by U.S. region — 52 jurisdictions in 45 states, National Syndromic Surveillance Program, July 2016–September 2017. (Graph credit: Centers for Disease Control)
The quarterly rate of suspected opioid overdose, by U.S. region — 52 jurisdictions in 45 states, National Syndromic Surveillance Program, July 2016–September 2017. (Graph credit: Centers for Disease Control)

The information released by the CDC also may provide a bigger picture of the nation’s opioid crisis.

Previously released data on opioid-related drug overdose deaths only shows an extreme outcome, while data from hospitals and first responders have the potential to show how it affects others who don’t die.

Brutsch likened numbers for opioid-related drug overdoses to a pyramid. Deaths would be at the top and a smaller amount than hospital visits, emergency responses and Naloxone applications.

For example, Utah had 606 opioid-related drug overdose deaths in a 12-month span between July 2016 and July 2017, and 715 in the year before that, according to the CDC.

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Officials from Utah Naloxone — a group dedicated to promoting and educating Utahns about the antidote for opioids — told KSL they have distributed 17,000 free kits between July 2015 and February 2018, and have had more than 2,000 overdose reversals reported to them.

“(The CDC report) really goes to show the burden of the opioid problem in our country,” Brutsch said. As more data is collected, Brutsch expects it will be beneficial for those trying to erase the nation’s opioid problem.

“Once an overdose is fatal, there’s no opportunity to help that person,” she added. “But when we can identify where these other overdoses are occurring, that may be a bit of a precursor and help us intervene before we start seeing more deaths in that area. It will allow us to be more proactive in our approach.”

Contributing: Sean Moody

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