UW Health: Overdose visits in emergency departments remain large

Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 3:55 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The number of emergency visits related to opioid overdoses continues remain high nationally and at UW Health, the health system announced Friday.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control said the rate of nonfatal opioid hospital visits has increased 4% each quarter from January 2018 to March 2022—an increase of 98 to 179 patients per 100,000. This increase has gone hand in hand with the increase in overdose rates in emergency departments nationally, according to the same report.

UW Health emergency departments saw a decrease in 2022 from the number of opioid overdose visits from 2021, a difference of 631 down to 583. However, the hospital reported seeing an increase in the previous two years leading up to 2022.

Dr. Collin Michels, an emergency medicine physician at UW Health, said emergency departments are designed to care for patients suffering an overdose, but that the cases can be hard on staff.

“Weekly, we see the tragedy of the opioid epidemic firsthand in the ED,” Michels said. “Families are being torn apart by these drugs that are just so addictive and deadly.”

The changing drug supply in the United States and Wisconsin, including the infiltration of fentanyl and other illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs, has had a hand in the overdose increase, said Dr. Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, an addiction medicine physician.

Salisbury-Afshar added that it is hard to determine for users if the drug they are taking contains fentanyl, and if they are, the potency the drug contains.

“People may not know whether the substance they are using is 5% fentanyl or 95% fentanyl, making it difficult to know how much is a non-lethal amount,” she said.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that a steadily increasing number of Wisconsinites aren’t making it to the emergency department after an overdose because of the potency. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of Wisconsin deaths rose about 16% from 1,231 to 1,427.

UW Health officials said highly effective drug treatments do exist and it’s their hope to support more people with substance abuse disorders.

Dane County residents have access to education and naloxone from Public Heath Madison and Dane County, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. UW Health said most pharmacies also dispense naloxone.

Those who are struggling with addiction can research treatment at 211 Wisconsin.

Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.