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Study finds women aged 25 to 44 are driving the increase in opioid-related emergency room and hospital stays in Kentucky

June 27, 2017

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky is a national leader in yet another measurement of the painkiller epidemic: the number of opioid-related emergency-room visits and inpatient hospital stays. That was established by a study which found that the numbers are largely driven by women between 25 and 44.

Kentucky ranks eighth in the rate of opioid-related emergency room visits for both men and women. For opioid-related inpatient stays, it is 10th among women and 16th among men.

The study, released by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, analyzed inpatient data for 44 states and the District of Columbia and emergency room data for 30 states, both for 2014, the latest year for which full data are available for all states.

Among all the states studied, there was a 64 percent increase for opioid-related inpatient care and a 99 percent increase for emergency-room treatment since 2005.

The study placed Kentucky women in the top quarter of states for both opioid-related emergency room visits and opioid-related inpatient stays. The rates were 304 women per 100,000 people for hospital stays and 209 per 100,000 for emergency-room visits.

The study found that nationally, women are now as likely as men to be admitted to a hospital for opioid-related inpatient care. In 2005, men were more likely, but since then there has been a steady increase in the rate of inpatient stays for both men and women and they are now hospitalized at about the same rate. In Kentucky, women’s inpatient hospital stays have been higher than men’s since 2008.

Men are still more likely to be treated in the emergency room for opioid abuse than women, both nationally and in Kentucky, but both sexes have shown steady increases and are rising faster than inpatient stays, the study found.

Nationally, patients aged 25 to 44 had the highest rates for both opioid-related inpatient stays and opioid-related emergency-room visits, though patients aged 45 to 64 numbers had nearly identical rates as the 25 to 44 age group for inpatient stays. The report notes that both opioid-related hospital stays and emergency room visits have increased in all age groups since 2005.

In Kentucky, the 25-44 age group also led for both opioid-related inpatient stays (768 per 100,000 in the first three-quarters of 2016) and opioid-related emergency-room visits (642 in per 100,000 in 2015).

These rankings should come as no surprise since Kentucky has some of the highest rates of prescription drug use in the nation, which is one of the main contributors to opioid addiction. It also has one of the highest overdose death rates in the nation.

In 2015, the rate of drug overdose deaths in Kentucky was just over 30 per 100,000, compared to 16 per 100,000 nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put another way, 1,297 Kentuckians died from an overdose in 2015.

State Rep. Kim Moser told Kentucky Health News in March that there were 3.5 billion doses of opioids prescribed in Kentucky last year which, “enough for 79 pills per man, woman, and child.” She was describing a new state law that increases drug penalties and limits the prescribing of painkillers to three days for acute pain.

While speaking at a Kentucky Health News health-journalism workshop in November, Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policysaid 56 percent of people who died from an overdose in 2015 had an opioid prescription written in the prior 6 months to their death, 33 percent had a current opioid prescription, and 21 percent had an overlapping opioid or benzodiazepine prescription at the time of their death.