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Rise of Opioid Abuse Signals a Need for Advanced Prevention, Workplace Involvement


The U.S. opioid epidemic continues to worsen, affecting both men and women of every age in every region across the country, highlighting the need for enhanced prevention and treatment efforts.

Emergency department (ED) visits for opioid overdoses increased 30% in the United States from July 2016 through September 2017, according to data reported by 52 jurisdictions in 45 states in the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report examined the timeliest data available to the CDC on ED visits for opioid overdoses across multiple states.

Opioid overdoses increased for men and women, all age groups and all regions, but varied by state, with rural/urban differences. The findings highlight the need for enhanced prevention and treatment efforts in EDs and for greater access to evidence-based opioid use disorder treatments, including medication-assisted treatment and harm reduction services.

“Long before we receive data from death certificates, emergency department data can point to alarming increases in opioid overdoses,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States.”

ED Data Allows Faster Tracking of Trends

Data from 16 states in the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) Program was analyzed, showing quarterly trends by state and rural/urban differences from July 2016 through September 2017. Overall, ED visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased 35% in these 16 states hit hard by the epidemic.

The data shows:

  • Eight states from three U.S. regions reported substantial increases — 25% or greater — in the rate of opioid overdose ED visits.
  • Significant increases in all states reported in the Midwest, including Wisconsin (109%), Illinois (66%), Indiana (35%), Ohio (28%) and Missouri (21%).
  • Considerable variation among states in the Northeast and Southeast; some states reported substantial increases and others modest decreases:
    • In the Northeast, large increases were seen in Delaware (105%), Pennsylvania (81%) and Maine (34%), but other states, like Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island showed nonsignificant decreases (<10%).
    • In the Southeast, North Carolina reported an increase (31%), while Kentucky reported a statistically significant decrease (15%).
  • Highest rate increases (54%) occurred in large central metropolitan areas (a population of 1 million or more and covering a principal city).

The sharp increases and variation across states and counties indicate the need for better coordination to address overdose outbreaks spreading across county and state borders. Closer coordination between public health and public safety agencies can support identification of changes in supply and use of illicit opioids, further allowing communities to take appropriate action to reduce opioid overdoses.

The workplace can be a source of support, too. In the January edition of Workspan magazine, a WorldatWork publication, Dr. Joel Bennett of Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems wrote about how a positive workplace environment could help combat the opioid epidemic. In his piece, “The Opioid Epidemic,” Bennett noted that most wellness solutions are skewed toward individual-level data.

“They ignore the work climate and environmental factors that amplify, and even cause, those risks,” Bennett wrote. “In my experience, there’s more success using a team or ‘culture of health’ approach.”

Grant Gordon of Artemis Health agrees that the workplace can play a pivotal role. In his article, “Unearthing Data in the Drugs,” in the March issue of Workspan magazine, he wrote that, “When it comes to opioids more specifically, employers are taking this same proactive approach. Not only are they concerned about overall population health, they’re also worried about safety on the job, reduced productivity and chronic absenteeism — all side effects of addiction.

“Employers need to offer robust benefits programs to help employees address substance abuse, and the best way to justify these programs is with data. Many employers use de-identified data from medical and prescription claims, wellness programs and more to find trends in their benefits use. Because the information isn’t tied to patient names or employment records, it falls within HIPPA regulations and employment law for them to mine this data to find cost savings, gaps in care or population health trends.”


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