Despite a policy that led to a decrease in the amount of prescription opioids dispensed in West Virginia, hospitalizations related to opioids have not significantly declined, according to researchers from West Virginia University. More alarming: the data shows that there was more than a 200 percent increase in heroin poisonings following the policy’s implementation.
The study found that overall opioid poisonings rates increased significantly from 2008 to 2015 among all age groups. Individuals ranging between 18 and 34 years had the highest increase in poisonings, attributed to both heroin and prescription opioids. According to data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the prescription drug monitoring program was mandated for the state of West Virginia in 2012 there was a notable decrease in the amount of prescription opioids dispensed – yet hospitalizations for opioid overdoses did not decrease.
Additionally, while some studies suggest prescription drug monitoring programs have reduced access to unnecessary prescription opioids, there is concern that these efforts may be associated with an increase in heroin use.
Study authors say that this shows public health efforts implemented to reduce the excess supply of prescription opioids have not been associated with a decrease in the total number of hospital admissions for opioid poisonings.
The researchers used data from Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Integrated Data Repository electronic medical records to examine the trend in hospitalizations from opioid poisonings in West Virginia, a state heavily impacted by the current opioid overdose crisis. They presented their preliminary research this week at the American Public Health Association’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo.
Public health experts say the findings underscore the need to better understand changes in opioid poisonings since 2008, and that the opioid public health emergency must be tackled with a multifaceted approach.