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Emergency medical services encounters track rise in nonfatal overdoses

Nonfatal opioid overdoses spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have increased by an average of 4% quarterly since the beginning of 2018, according to a new study. The data were drawn from emergency medical services (EMS) encounters, rather than from emergency department visits, “because, increasingly, persons experiencing a nonfatal opioid overdose are refusing transport to EDs,” the authors noted.

The study analyzed data from 491 counties in 21 states between January 2018 and March 2022. Overall, the number of nonfatal overdose encounters rose from 98.1 per 10,000 EMS encounters to 179.1 per 100,000 encounters, an increase of 83% over the 17 quarters of the study. Increases were seen for both sexes and in all age groups, except 15-to 24-year-olds, and all racial/ethnic groups except Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders. The steepest increases were seen in urban counties and counties with the highest rates of unemployment.

EMS encounter data allow near-real-time monitoring of overdose data, the authors note, and “can help identify communities disproportionately affected by overdose and can guide equitable response and prevention efforts, including increased access to harm reduction services and linkage to care and treatment.”

Casillas SM, Pickens CM, Stokes EK, et al. Patient-Level and County-Level Trends in Nonfatal Opioid-Involved Overdose Emergency Medical Services Encounters - 491 Counties, United States, January 2018-March 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(34):1073-1080.

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