American Midwest Saw 70% Increase in Opioid ER Visits from 2016 to 2017

More people are ending up in the hospital from an opioid overdose, due in part to an influx of more potent illicit opioids, such as fentanyl, seen above.
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

The dangers posed by the opioid crisis only seem to be getting worse, according to a new Vital Signs report released today by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More people than ever are ending up in the emergency room as a result of an opioid overdose, and in some parts of the country, the increase has been staggering.

According to data sourced from the CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance program, ER visits due to suspected opioid overdose rose by 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 reporting areas across 45 states. The rise was seen throughout cities and towns big and small alike, and evenly among all age groups and both genders. It was largest, however, in the Midwestern region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The average increase there was 70 percent.


Though many of the 142,000 overdoses observed during the studied time period weren’t fatal, it’s estimated that 64,000 people died of drug overdose in 2016, with 42,000 of those dying from opioids—both new highs for the US.

“We’re currently seeing the highest overdose death rates ever recorded in the United States.” said acting CDC director Anne Schuchat during a teleconference held today, according to The Guardian.


The increases were more substantial in large cities, according to the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) program, which provides more timely and comprehensive data on fatal and nonfatal opioid overdoses. From July 2016 through September 2017, 10 of 16 states involved in the ESOOS program reported a significant increase of overdoses, and the average increase across large cities in all 16 states was 54 percent, as compared to 21 percent in the most rural areas.

While the CDC data doesn’t delve into the type of opioids used in these cases, other research has found that the driver of opioid overdose deaths, while initially prescription painkillers, now seem to be illicit opioids, particularly more potent synthetic drugs like fentanyl and its analogs.


“The issue of cutting heroin with fentanyl is a very major problem right now,” Schuchat said.

Gloomy as the prognosis is, the CDC is hopeful their report will encourage hospitals, health departments, mental health and treatment providers, community-based organizations, and law enforcement agencies to better coordinate with one another to prevent people living with opioid addiction from slipping through through the cracks.


The CDC report notes that state and local health departments can alert communities about ongoing clusters of overdose deaths; provide more naloxone (the fast-acting drug that can reverse overdoses and prevent death) to first responders and people living in affected areas; and increase the availability of and access to treatment services such as medication-assisted therapy for ER patients.

[Vital Signs]


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Ed Cara

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere