EDs see dramatic increase in visits related to opioid use

Abuse of legal drugs are driving up emergency department visits, suggesting current prevention efforts are woefully inadequate.

U.S. emergency departments report a dramatic increase in the number of patients whose conditions involve non-medical use of opioids in recent years. Between 2004 and 2008 abuse of opioid medications increased more than 111 percent, according to a study in the June 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and reported by HealthDay.

"What we are seeing is a startling increase in the number of emergency room visits for non-medical use of narcotic pain relievers," Peter Delany, director of the Office of Applied Studies at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, told HealthDay; he added, to the Associated Press, that it was a "startling jump."

SAMHSA, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, collected the data for the report. The estimated number of emergency room visits for the non-medical use of prescription pain killers rose from more than 144,600 in 2004 to almost 306,000 in 2008.

Misuse of oxycodone rose 152 percent between 2004 and 2008, to more than 105,000 visits; for hydrocodone drugs, ED visits rose 123 percent; and for the heroin-substitute methadone, 73 percent, HealthDay reports.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report concluded that these increases "suggest that previous prevention measures, such as provider and patient education and restrictions on use of specific formulations, have not been adequate. Given the societal burden of the problem, additional interventions are urgently needed, such as more systematic provider education, universal use of state prescription drug monitoring programs by providers, the routine monitoring of insurance claims information for signs of inappropriate use, and efforts by providers and insurers to intervene when patients use drugs inappropriately."

For more information:
- here's the Associated Press story
- check out the HealthDay article via healthfinder.gov
- read the June 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
- visit the DAWN website