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Evidence of Growing Opioid Epidemic Continues

December 23, 2016

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association have each issued reports that provide growing evidence of a growing opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

AHRQ’s Opioid-Related Inpatient Stays and Emergency Department Visits by State, 2009–2014 found that opioid-related emergency department visits rose nationally by 99 percent and inpatient stays increased by 64 percent between 2005–2014. In addition, Pennsylvania hospitals reported an increasing rate of opioid-related inpatient stays in 2014 (242 visits per 100,000 population), placing it above the national rate (224 visits per 100,000 population). This increase in opioid-related inpatient stays places Pennsylvania 14th among the 14 states and District of Columbia with rates that exceed the national rate.

In addition, the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association issued its Report on Overdose Death Statistics that found overdose deaths in the state rose by 30 percent between 2014–2015, to 3,505 deaths. This equates to nearly 10 Pennsylvanians dying each day from drug-related causes.

Earlier this year, the U.S. surgeon general released a comprehensive report detailing the state of substance abuse in America and proposing sustainable solutions to address the public health crisis. The first report of its kind, it has the same sense of urgency as the report released in 1964 that shaped public attitudes and the government’s response to the growing evidence of the health impacts of smoking.

In response, this year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced $20 million among state behavioral health budgets, Medical Assistance, and federal funding to more than double the number of Centers of Excellence to 45 locations across the state. Dr. Rachel Levine, Physician General of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, has provided a statewide standing order for naloxone, the reversal medication used to treat an overdose, to assure that it is available to anyone wishing to purchase it at any Pennsylvania pharmacy. Additionally, a package of bills was signed by Gov. Wolf to strengthen the recently started Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

In addition, HAP is working with member hospitals, health systems and other key stakeholders to adopt meaningful policy changes to improve the health care community’s response to the opioid epidemic. Earlier this year, Michael Consuelos, HAP’s senior vice president of clinical integration, testified about how Pennsylvania’s hospital are working with their communities to address the opioid epidemic. Dr. Consuelos’ testimony recognized the importance of continuing education in the prescribing of opioids, utilizing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and the increased use and access to naloxone.

HAP’s key priorities include:

  • Preventing new cases of opioid addiction by promoting safe prescribing, and implementing the state’s prescription drug monitoring program
  • Treating people who are already addicted by expanding access to treatment and recovery
  • Increasing access to life-saving overdose medications
  • Focusing care for moms and infants impacted by opioid abuse
  • Reducing the supply of opioids in our communities
  • HAP believes that policymakers must allow for flexibility in addressing this public health crisis. A one-size-fits-all approach does not address the complexity of opioid abuse, but rather the implementation of community specific best practices

Legislatures and the administration have indicated a willingness to continue efforts to improve the state’s response to this epidemic in 2017.

For more information about HAP’s work to combat the opioid crisis, contact Michael Consuelos, MD, HAP's senior vice president, clinical integration.

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