ER visits caused by nonmedical use of opioids double in 5 years

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC focuses on the rapid increase of emergency department visits caused by the abuse and misuse of prescription painkillers. The report is based on a review of the five most recent years of data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

DAWN’s national estimates are based on a 220-hospital sample. According to DAWN, “nonmedical use” means “taking a higher-than-recommended dose, taking a drug prescribed for another person, drug-facilitated assault, or documented misuse or abuse, all of which must be documented in the medical record.”

The big takeaway?

… the estimated number of ED visits for nonmedical use of opioid analgesics increased 111% during 2004-2008 (from 144,600 to 305,900 visits) and increased 29% during 2007–2008. The highest numbers of ED visits were recorded for oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, all of which showed statistically significant increases during the 5-year period.

It’s a number-heavy report, so I’ve put together a quick overview with the help of the DAWN and MMWR reviews, as well as this DAWN report. You’ll find it below.


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