DHHS Sees Rise in Opioid Overdose Emergency Department Visits

Raleigh – Emergency department visits for opioid overdose in North Carolina have risen sharply, with preliminary data for 2017 indicating more than 5,700 visits, a nearly 40 percent increase in opioid overdose ED visits compared to 2016. The 2017 increase represents a doubling of the number recorded in 2009.

The ED visits are tracked as part of North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan, developed in 2017 with community partners to combat the opioid crisis. The plan includes measurable strategies to reduce the oversupply of prescription opioids, the diversion of prescription drugs and the flow of illicit drugs, increase community awareness and prevention, make naloxone widely available, expand treatment and recovery systems of care, and coordinate the state’s infrastructure to tackle the opioid crisis.

“We are seeing progress in some areas, but the latest numbers show that we still have a long way to go to stem the tide of this crisis,” said Mandy Cohen, M.D., Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “We must continue to develop and implement innovative approaches to address the issue, working closely with our partners on both prevention and treatment.”

As part of the plan, quarterly reports will examine progress in key areas. The plan is a living document that will be updated as it tracks progress on the epidemic and identifies new issues and solutions.

Data continues to highlight the need for enhanced prevention and treatment efforts and for greater access to evidence-based opioid use disorder treatments, including medication-assisted treatment and harm reduction services.

The percentage of ED visits that involve heroin and other illicit opioids has increased and is now 68 percent of opioid overdose ED visits, according to the most recent quarterly report. Most people visiting the emergency department for opioid overdose in 2017 were white (85 percent), male (62 percent) and age 25-34 (39 percent).

In the past year, several measures have been put in place to help stem the opioid crisis in North Carolina:

  • Naloxone standing order, which is increasing distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone to first responders, family and friends.
  • Distribution of funding received from federal Opioid STR grant to local communities to expand treatment, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.
  • Updating of the Controlled Substance Reporting System (CSRS) to connect to other states, allowing doctors and other clinicians to obtain multi-state information about their patients’ opioid prescriptions.
  • Implentation of the STOP Act, including revised, Safe Prescribing Policies to reduce opioid misuse and overdose

“Opioid addiction is a chronic disease,” said Susan Kansagra, M.D., MBA, Chief of the Chronic Disease and Injury Section in DHHS’ Division of Public Health. “We must continue to work on prevention, while we ensure that those with addiction have access to the care they need throughout their lives and the various stages of treatment and recovery.”

Going forward, DHHS will also post preliminary monthly data on opioid overdose ED visits around the 15th of each month. While the data have been made available to local health departments and partners, DHHS will be posting on its websites to enable broader access to those on front lines of the epidemic. Monthly reports will be available on the Chronic Disease and Injury Section’s website.

For more information, visit https://www.ncdhhs.gov/opioid-epidemic.