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Seniors' Opioid-related Hospital Stays, ED Visits Rise Dramatically

September 20, 2018

According to a new report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), opioid misuse among older adults is a growing problem. Opioid-related hospital stays and emergency department (ED) visits for patients 65 and older have increased sharply. In contrast, seniors’ non-opioid related hospitalizations have declined.

Opioid misuse overall is lower among seniors compared to younger age groups. But from 2010 to 2015, the number and rate of opioid-related hospitalizations and ED visits among seniors have surged:

  • The number of inpatient stays increased by about half (54.4%), from 80,500 during 2010 to 124,300 during 2015
  • The rate of inpatient stays increased a third (34.3%), from 199.3 per 100,000 to 267.6 per 100,000
  • The number of ED visits doubled, from 18,100 during 2010 to 36,200 during 2015
  • The rate of ED visits increased by three-quarters (74.2%), from 44.7 per 100,000 to 77.9 per 100,000 

Meanwhile, the rate of senior’s non-opioid related hospital stays decreased 34.3 percent during the same time period. The rates of both opioid and non-opioid-related ED visits increased, but opioid-related visits increased far more:

  • The rate of opioid-related ED visits increased 74 percent
  • The rate of non-opioid-related ED visits increased just 17 percent

Opioids was listed as a principal diagnosis more often among opioid-related ED visits (17.2%) than among opioid-related inpatient stays (7.5%).

Opioid-related hospitalizations and ED visits also cost more than those not related to opioids. During 2015, the average cost for:

  • Opioid-related inpatient stays was 12.9 percent higher ($14,900 as compared to $13,200)
  • Opioid-related ED visits was 34.7 percent higher ($6,600 as compared to $4,900)

According to another recent AHRQ report, about one in five seniors filled at least one outpatient opioid prescription during 2015–2016, pointing to the ongoing need for education and physician monitoring around the appropriate use of opioid medications. 

Opioid-related Overdoses Among Older Adults in Pennsylvania

A September 2018 research brief from the Pennsylvania Health Care Containment Council sheds light on the rate of heroin and opioid pain medication overdoses among older adults in the commonwealth. 

Compared to other age groups, adults aged 55 and over had the highest rate of hospitalization for pain medication overdoses. Older Pennsylvanians had the lowest hospitalization rate for heroin overdose during 2017—but this rate has more than tripled since 2013.

HAP is working with Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems as well as government partners and other stakeholders to curb the opioid epidemic by:

  • 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 through “warm handoffs” connecting overdose survivors in the ED to treatment options
  • Focusing on care for mothers and infants impacted by opioid abuse through participation in Pennsylvania’s Multidisciplinary Workgroup on Infant Substance Exposure (MDWISE) 

For more information about HAP’s work related to the opioid crisis, contact Michael J. Consuelos, MD, HAP’s senior vice president, clinical integration, or Jennifer Jordan, HAP’s vice president, regulatory advocacy.

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