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By 2014 the Opioid Epidemic Was Already Destroying Lives

Update Date: Jun 21, 2017 04:38 PM EDT

An ambulance roars up to a hospital emergency room. The EMTs carry out a 30-year-old woman. A quick diagnosis: heroin overdose. Thankfully she's alive. She is tracked into the system as an inpatient. As she is checked in, a 43-year-old man walks into the ER helped by two friends who know he has misused the prescription drug OxyContin.

Given recent media coverage, you might think this scene is taking place in 2017. But the opioid epidemic was already raging under the radar in 2014 when 1.27 million people were admitted to emergency rooms or required inpatient stays in the US for opioid issues -- a 64% increase in opioid issues since 2005.

A report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is the most detailed statistical analysis of opioid-related issues ever published. Data for the years since 2014 is still being compiled, but a glimpse of this rising disaster paints a grim and worsening public health picture.

The opioid epidemic has resulted from the burgeoning use of heroin or synthetically produced opioids like OxyContin, Percocet, Oxycodone, and Vicodin. Illegal use of fentanyl mixed heroin has also become of increasing concern for public health officials.

To give you some idea of how the crisis affects us, a few years ago the governor of Vermont devoted 100% of his State of the State address to its citizens' opioid use. He did not talk about taxes or the quality of the roads -- he talked exclusively about heroin.

Opioid abuse among women has increased markedly since 2005, until in 2014 women were just as likely as men to be opioid inpatients. The idea that males have greater opioid issues is crumbling.

The report shows that heartland states along with most western and southern states were more like to take women as inpatients as were California, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Wyoming, Iowa, Nebraska, and Texas have had the lowest rates of opioid inpatient admissions, while Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington have had the highest rates.

Twice as many people showed up at ER rooms in 2014 as they did in 2005. About 60% more stayed in hospitals in 2014 than did in 2005. Women were more likely to visit ER than men in states like North Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Men were more like to visit ERs than women in the Midwest and south.

Not surprisingly, men and women aged 25-44 were most likely to show up at ERs or be admitted as inpatients for opioid abuse.

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