Epidemic of opioid abuse leads to crowding ERs, hospital beds in Maryland

Tens of thousands of people a year visit an emergency room or are admitted to a hospital in Maryland for opioid overdose, withdrawal or complications, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, the rate of hospital admissions for opioid-related conditions in Maryland was 362 for every 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 225. The rate of ER visits was 288 per 100,000 residents, far exceeding the national average of 178, according to the report.

These figures far exceed the 1,259 deaths from all drug and alcohol overdoses in the state in 2015 and the 1,468 fatal overdoses in the first nine months of 2016, according to the report.

"It's an epidemic, and it's only increasing in numbers," said Chirag Chaudhari, MD, chair of the emergency department at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, according to the report. "As more and more attention is paid to it and resources become available, we hope to see declines."

Health officials were not surprised by this data, as abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin has long afflicted Maryland, especially in Baltimore. However, some said Maryland's numbers might be higher than other states because it imposes comprehensive hospital reporting standards.

It's possible that broad use of naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, and buprenorphine, a drug that helps ease withdrawal symptoms, could reduce the need for hospital admissions for opioid overdoses and withdrawal, Michael Fingerhood, MD, chief of the division of chemical dependence at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, told the Baltimore Sun.

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