AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
Pulling Back the Curtain on the Casualties of Today's Opioids Crisis
Our Nation remains in the grips of a devastating public health crisis resulting from opioid misuse and opioid use disorders. In 2016, more than 115 Americans died every day as a result of an opioid overdose. That number continues to increase according to preliminary 2017 figures.
In addition, as AHRQ's and other HHS agencies' statistics make clear, no part of the country is exempt and no group of people is unaffected. The epidemic doesn't care what State a person lives in, nor does it distinguish between age, race, or sex.
For instance, earlier this week, a press release from AHRQ highlighted two reports that illustrate the impacts of opioids on seniors. One report shows that nationally, nearly 125,000 hospitalizations and more than 36,000 emergency department visits among older Americans involved opioid-related diagnoses in 2015. The other report indicates that in 2015 and 2016, nearly 4 million seniors, on average, filled four or more opioid prescriptions.
The reports are derived from two AHRQ databases: the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, the Nation's most comprehensive source of hospital data, and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the only national data source measuring how Americans use and pay for medical care. Some of the most compelling data from those reports are illustrated in newly developed opioid-related infographics.
As our press release makes clear, these reports shine a light on the under-recognized problem of opioid use among older Americans, many of whom yearn each day for relief from chronic pain. As a Nation we are learning together about the challenge of safe prescribing for those in need while avoiding overuse or misuse.
While the impact of opioids on seniors comes into focus, we're also gathering important information about impacts on the opposite side of the age spectrum: newborn babies.
The news may be sobering, but I'm encouraged by the health care community's investments into finding solutions. With those ongoing efforts in mind, AHRQ is pleased to provide an opioids Web site that features updated data analyses, research findings, and tools that can be used by clinicians and leaders of the Nation's delivery systems to improve patient care. The website also offers a forum for health care teams to share their tools for diminishing the opioids epidemic.
"We must recognize that opioid use disorder is a chronic illness, one that has to be treated with great skill, urgency, and a genuine sense of compassion on the part of all of us who want to make a difference."
As HHS Secretary Alex Azar has stressed, effectively addressing opioid use disorders will require many types of interventions and everyone has a role to play—from individuals and families to health systems and communities, and providers and researchers. Secretary Azar's and HHS' 5-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioids Crisis provides a roadmap for doing so, one we're proud to be a part of.
One further point that I believe deserves our attention: opioid use disorders will mean changing attitudes, as well. We must recognize that opioid use disorder is a chronic illness, one that has to be treated with great skill, urgency, and a genuine sense of compassion on the part of all of us who want to make a difference.
I hope that we will use the occasion of this year's HHS Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week to recommit ourselves to doing just that and find new ways as individuals and organizations to apply our own unique skills and perspectives to this terrible crisis.
While the road remains a difficult one, we are beginning to see rays of progress. Prevention works, treatment is effective, and recovery is possible for everyone.
Gopal Khanna is the Director of AHRQ.