You may have heard the oft-repeated stat that 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2015, or 90 people a day, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many people are affected. Yesterday, the US government released terrifying new information on the opioid epidemic gripping the country: In 2014, there were 1.27 million opioid-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations, which amounts to 3,500 hospital visits every single day.
The new report, released by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, tracked ER visits and inpatient stays related to opioids, both prescription painkillers and illicit drugs such as heroin, in every state between 2005 and 2014. During that time, inpatient care for opioid-related problems rose 64 percent, and emergency room treatment linked to opioid use skyrocketed by 99 percent. It's an upward trajectory that, researchers say, will only continue to rise as long as the epidemic continues.
The data show that young people are disproportionately affected. There were sharp increases in opioid-related hospitalizations and ER visits among people ages 25 to 44—a group for which death rates from all causes has risen nationally since 2010, per the Post. People ages 25 to 44 had the highest rates of ER visits nationally. There were also jumps among people 65 or older, though deaths in older patients are often linked to prescription medication reactions rather than overdoses or other complications from using illegal drugs.
Opioid-related inpatient treatment for women has also spiked: There was a significant gap between men and women for inpatient stays in 2005, but that gap had closed entirely by 2014 (see the graph below). Hospitalizations for women increase by 75 percent compared to about 55 percent for men. Now, women have higher rates of opioid-related hospitalization than men do in three-quarters of states. Men, however, still accounted for more ER visits than women.
The report also found that some states have contributed to the jump in opioid-related health care more than others: Maryland ranked highest on the national list for inpatient care—that ranking echoes a state report released earlier this month showing opioid-related deaths have nearly quadrupled in Maryland since 2010. In Baltimore alone, there were 694 deaths from drug- and alcohol-related overdoses in 2016, reports the Washington Post. That figure was 393 in 2015.
Just behind Maryland in hospitalizations from opioid use were the District of Columbia and Massachusetts, which topped the national list for opioid-related ER visits. On the other end of the spectrum, Texas, Nebraska, and Iowa had some of the lowest rates of hospital admissions related to painkillers, heroin, and street fentanyl. Just to show how drastic those differences are: Maryland reported 404 opioid-related hospital admissions per 100,000 residents; Iowa had just under 73.
What all of this data doesn't tell us is why some states have such high—and some such low—rates of hospitalizations. "Our data tell us what is going on. They tell us what the facts are. But they don't give us the underlying reasons for what we're seeing here," said Anne Elixhauser, report co-author and senior research scientist at AHRQ in an interview with the Post. However, researchers did find that rates of hospital admission or ER visits were a bit higher in poorer neighborhoods when they looked into the income ranges for affected Zip codes.
All of this comes as the Trump administration tries to repeal Obamacare, and their proposals would result in millions of people losing their health insurance. Hospital stays and ER visits are super expensive, so this new report only adds to the laundry list of reasons why the US can't afford a healthcare bill that would increases the number of people without insurance.
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