ER visits for opioid overdoses decline in Kentucky as they spike across the country

The opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen.
The opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. AP

Emergency room visits for suspected overdoses of painkillers called opioids went down 15 percent in Kentucky between July 2016 and September 2017, providing some good news in the fight to stem spiraling drug deaths in the state.

That drop came even as emergency-room visits for suspected opioid overdoses went up 30 percent across the country, according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More use of the antidote naloxone by first responders was one reason for the decline here, said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Ambulance crews, police and others can administer naloxone to try to revive someone who has overdosed on opioids, which include prescription drugs such as oxycodone, as well as heroin and fentanyl.

Authorities have worked to make naloxone more widely available in the state. It can easily be obtained at pharmacies.

Someone revived outside a hospital can refuse transport to the emergency room, so the overdose would not show up in the statistics on emergency-room visits.

Ingram said another reason for the decline is that coordinated efforts to address the opioid epidemic through prevention, treatment and law enforcement are starting to pay off.

“It’s an all-hands-on deck approach,” Ingram said.

It’s too early to say the state has turned the corner on the crisis, but the drop in emergency-room visits is encouraging, Ingram said.

The CDC said fluctuations in drug supply might also help explain the decrease in Kentucky.

The agency’s analysis offered no encouragement for other states, which included data from 52 areas in 45 states.

Opioid overdoses went up in every region of the country, among both men and women, and in every age group studied, the report said.

The increase was 31 percent in people ages 25 through 34; 36 percent in the 35-54 age group; and 32 percent in people age 55 and over.

The Midwest saw the biggest overall spike, at 69.7 percent, followed by the West 40.3 percent; the Northeast at 21.3 percent; the Southwest, 20.2 percent; and the Southeast, 14 percent.

Wisconsin saw an increase of 108 percent in emergency-room visits during the July 2016-September 2017 period, and the jump was 105 percent in Delaware, according to the CDC.

There was a 5.3 percent decrease in visits in West Virginia, but other states bordering Kentucky covered in the report had substantial increases.

The CDC said that there were 63,632 drug-overdose deaths in the country in 2016, an increase of 21.4 percent from the year before.

Of those, two-thirds involved opioids. Heroin and fentanyl are driving up the death toll, the agency said.

Kentucky had a record 1,404 fatal overdoses in 2016.