On the Brink: Why Hospitals Are Operating on Life Support

Our hospitals are now spilling over, thanks to the massive number of opiate-related admissions.

Our hospitals are now spilling over, thanks to the massive number of opiate-related admissions.

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When you think of patients rushing to the ER, what scenarios come to mind? A car accident? Heart attack? Labor?

One of the most common reasons people head to the hospital is injury. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, injuries related to steps and stairs are the most common reason people wind up in the ER. Believe it or not, these stumbles and falls put just over 1 million people in emergency departments in 2014.

Unfortunately, our hospital systems are dealing with a lot more than car accidents, heart attacks, and women in labor. In fact, one specific type of ER admission is now threatening to surpass all others – including falls. So what could possibly be sending more than 1 million people to our ERs each year? Opiates.

In 2014, 1.3 million hospitalizations across the country involved opioids. Between 2005 and 2015, opioid-related emergency room visits doubled. Inpatient stays due to opiates rose 64 percent during that same time.

No One is Granted Immunity to the Opioid Epidemic

Who is represented in these numbers? Everyone.

Dr. Anne Elixhauser, senior research scientist at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, explains, “It covers all areas, all age groups, male and female. There’s no immunity to the opioid problem.”

Elixhauser’s report reveals the rise in opioid-related hospital stays and ER visits includes both genders and all age groups. However, the distribution isn’t equal. Some people, groups, and geographic regions seem to be harder hit than others.

Here’s a breakdown of the stats, based on 2014 data:

  • More women are being admitted to the hospital for opioid use than men.
  • Opioid hospitalizations are highest in the most poverty-stricken areas.
  • Emergency rooms in Maryland see more opioid-related visits than any other state.
  • Arkansas and Iowa experience the fewest opioid-related ER visits.
  • Between 2009 and 2014, opioid-related ER visits rose in every state but Iowa.
  • Ohio hospitals saw the most significant increase in opioid-related visits, with a dramatic 106.4 percent jump.
  • Opioid-related hospital visits are more common in urban areas than rural.
  • The rate of visits is increasing more dramatically in rural areas than in urban areas.

Where Does This Leave Our Hospitals?

Healthcare and law officials are responding to these growing numbers with new programs, regulations, and initiatives. A few examples of those innovative strategies are:

The hope is to reduce the number of opiate-related emergencies in the future. For now, as Elixhauser summarized, “The deaths are horrible and startling, but the [total] burden of opioids is phenomenal.”

Additional Reading:  The Opiate Crisis is Officially a Nat’l Emergency – Now What?



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