More Than 1 Million Hospitalized for Pain Pills, Heroin Each Year

By Kelly Burch 08/24/17

New data analysis illustrates the massive impact of opioid use in America—the researchers say it's "only getting worse."

emergency room specialists pushing a bed through the halls

Government analysis shows that more than 1 million American visit the hospital each year for reasons related to opioids—including both prescription painkillers and heroin. The figure is part of a new data set released by the government that demonstrates how much opioid use is affecting the nation’s hospitals.

In 2014, there were 1.3 million hospital visits related to opioid abuse, and that number is likely to have increased since then as opioid use has become even more widespread. According to a New York Times analysis of the data, opioid-related emergency room visits doubled between 2005 and 2014, and opioid-related inpatient stays rose 64%.

Although some patterns emerged from the data, Dr. Anne Elixhauser, a senior research scientist at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality—which published the briefs—concluded that “there is no immunity to the opioid problem.”

“It covers all areas, all age groups, male and female. And it’s only getting worse in the time frame we’re looking at here,” she said.

One of the clearest trends observed from the data is that opioid hospitalizations were highest in the most poverty-stricken areas. Elixhauser's report also illustrates that opioid-related hospital stays and emergency room visits rose across all sexes and age groups.

However, the researcher noted that more women are being admitted to hospitals for opioid use. “Now, in three-quarters of states in the U.S., women have a higher rate of opioid-related inpatient stays than do men,” she said. “For most of the country, it seems to be a larger problem for women.” 

People aged 25 to 44 years old were the most likely to visit the emergency room. That age demographic and people 45 to 64 years old had the highest rates of inpatient hospital stays.

In 2014, emergency room visits related to opioids were most common in Maryland, and least common in Arkansas and Iowa. Inpatient stays were most common in Massachusetts and least common in Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming, the report found.

A third report found that in nearly every state, the rate of opioid-related emergency room visits rose between 2009 and 2014. Only one state, Iowa, saw a decrease over that period. Ohio had the most significant increase, with rates rising 106.4%.

The data found what while opioid-related hospital visits were more common in urban areas, the rates of these visits were increasing more dramatically in rural areas.

Altogether, the data illustrates the massive impact that the opioid epidemic is having on Americans. “The deaths are horrible and startling, but the [total] burden of opioids is phenomenal,” Elixhauser told NBC News.

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