Lawmaker Wants More Info On Opioid Overdose Reports

By Kelly Burch 02/14/18

State Rep. John Connor believes that additional reporting could lead to better prevention and intervention methods.

medical professionals sitting in front of a computer in an office

The opioid epidemic has hit Illinois hard, claiming about 2,000 lives in 2016. However, it’s difficult to know precisely how bad it is—and which areas are most affected—because of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in tracking opioid overdoses.

Recently introduced legislation aims to fix that, by improving tracking of opioid overdose deaths in order to be able to direct resources where they will be most effective. 

State Rep. John Connor, a Democrat, introduced a bill to the state legislature that would require coroners' offices to report the age, gender, race and county of residence of each person who overdoses in Illinois, regardless of whether they survive the overdose or not. The information would be sent to the state’s Department of Public Health and the General Assembly, which would be able to use it to better allocate resources, Connor said. 

“Being able to map out that information can really tell you where best to put your resources,” he told NPR Illinois. “And that's really the key, is figuring out how to allocate resources based on what is occurring and the trends that are occurring in the data.”

Eventually, that could lead to better prevention and intervention methods. “We can [then] look at the crisis with opioids and come up with an evidence-based model,” Connor said. 

The information that would be required under the law is already collected in many counties in the state, but not all of them. 

Accurately reporting opioid overdose deaths has been an issue, since the methods of collecting and reporting certain data varies widely from county to county in states around the nation.

Last year, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that many opioid deaths go unreported. Researchers looked at death certificates in Minnesota, and found that many that involved high levels of opioids were reported with a different primary cause of death.  

“Over half the cases that we found that were toxic or lethal were not counted in the system," said Dr. Victoria Hall, a CDC field officer based in Minnesota.

Extrapolated across the country, that report could mean that thousands of opioid-related deaths are going unreported each year, Hall said. 

“It's quite concerning, because it means that the (opioid) epidemic, which is already quite severe, could potentially be even worse," she said. "It does seem like it is almost an iceberg of an epidemic.”

Although the proposed Illinois legislation would not necessarily fix this issue, it indicates a growing awareness of the issues regarding the way that governments track and report opioid and other drug overdose deaths. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.