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Opioid Hospital Visits Are Down In Mass. For The First Time Since 2010

The rate of opioid-related hospital visits in Massachusetts dropped slightly between 2016 and 2017, the first decline since those numbers were first tracked in 2010, according to a new analysis.

The analysis, released Wednesday by the Health Policy Commission, found that rates of substance exposure in newborns also decreased by 6 percent from 2016 to 2017, along with the 2.3 percent drop in hospital visits.

The number of people dying of opioid overdoses was also on the decline over that time period, falling from 2,100 to an estimated 2,050, according to Department of Public Health data.

The commission, in its report, notes that the drop came while the national opioid mortality rate climbed 11 percent, but that the rate in Massachusetts nonetheless remained high compared to other states, at nearly twice the national average.

Compared to the national average, the mortality rate in Massachusetts grew at a faster clip from 2010 to 2016, according to the HPC, with a particularly sharp spike between 2014 and 2016.

"While Massachusetts continues to experience high rates of opioid-related injury and death, recent evidence suggests that the impact of the opioid epidemic is moderating," the report said.

Opioid-related hospital discharges "have grown substantially in Massachusetts" since 2010, the Health Policy Commission found, including 20 percent growth between 2014 and 2015 and 16.6 percent growth between 2015 and 2016, before the 2.3 percent drop the following year.

There were nearly 68,000 opioid-related hospital discharges in 2017, accounting for 2.1 percent of overall hospital visits.

Massachusetts had the highest rate of opioid-related hospital emergency department use of any state in 2016, while Iowa had the lowest, the report said.

The volume of opioid-related emergency department use here fell by 5.9 percent between 2016 and 2017, driving the overall reduction in opioid-related hospital trips.

Most parts of the state experienced dramatic increases in opioid-related emergency room discharges since 2012, the HPC said. The Fall River area had the highest rate in 2017, with 832 discharges per 100,000 people and the metrowest region had the lowest, with 251 per 100,000.

Opioid-related emergency department discharges by Massachusetts Health Policy Commission regions of patients' residence, 2012 and 2017.
Credit Massachusetts Health Policy Commission
Massachusetts Health Policy Commission
Opioid-related emergency department discharges by Massachusetts Health Policy Commission regions of patients' residence, 2012 and 2017.

The Health Policy Commission's data indicates different trends affecting different populations in the state.

Between 2012 and 2017, opioid-related hospital discharges rose twice as fast in the state's lowest-income areas as they did in the highest-income areas, with 40 percent of all such discharges in 2017 for patients living in areas in the lowest income quartile.

Among racial groups, the rate of opioid hospital visits for patients identified as black or African-American climbed by 98 percent between 2012 and 2017. The rate rose by more than 5 percent for black and African-American patients from 2016 to 2017, while it fell among those identified as white and Hispanic.

Residents with opioid-related hospital discharges are disproportionately lower-income, on public insurance, and between the ages of 25 and 40, the Health Policy Commission said.

This report was originally published by State House News Service.

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