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States are seeing startling increases in opioid overdoses

The opioids crisis appears to be deepening across the country. That’s according to a stark new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that emergency room visits for suspected overdoses rose by an average of 30 percent in a year. William Brangham joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the report and what experts see as the best way to combat the epidemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight, a stark new report shows the opioids crisis seems to deepening across the country.

    The Centers for Disease Control released data showing overdoses are increasing at an alarming rate. In fact, emergency room visits for suspected overdoses rose by an average of 30 percent in a year.

    William Brangham is back with more on this report.

    William, what did the CDC say?

  • William Brangham:

    Just as you described.

    The headline out of this report is that the opioid crisis is still awful and it is getting worse. And, remember, we lose — on average, about 115 people die every single day in America because of a drug overdose.

    What the CDC did in this report is, they went to emergency rooms, and they looked at how many of the people that come to your hospitals are coming because of these overdoses. And, as you mentioned, 30 percent of the overdoses — they have seen a 30 percent increase in overdoses between 2016 and 2017.

    And in certain places, it's been particularly bad. The Midwest was really hard-hit. Pennsylvania, Illinois, overdoses were up 50 percent or more, Delaware up by 105 percent, Wisconsin up by 109 percent.

    So,these are really, really startlingly high increases in the number of people who are coming in this terrible circumstances. Some states did see moderate decreases in the number of overdoses, but not nearly as dramatic as the rises.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So disturbing. And these numbers are recent, as you said, right up through 2017.

  • William Brangham:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, why is this happening? What do they say?

  • William Brangham:

    The CDC didn't really get into that.

    I think the argument is that it's the same part of this crisis that we have seen all along. People are addicted to these drugs. They're taking more and more of them.

    One of the obvious factors driving overdoses is the rise of what's called fentanyl, these additives that are added to heroin and other opioids on the streets that makes them much more potent and makes them much more likely to cause people to become — to have an overdose.

    Additionally, we have also been using more and more of this drug called Narcan, which, if you do overdose, it's a drug that you can shoot into your arm or shoot into your leg, and it revives you from that overdose.

    So, in some way, we're saving more people who are overdosing, and they are getting to emergency rooms, whereas in the past they would have just died.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, following on that, what is the CDC saying about what can be done? What kind of interventions need to happen that clearly don't seem to be happening?

    You were — I was reading earlier they were saying that a number of these people are coming back after an initial crisis.

  • William Brangham:

    Right. Exactly.

    E.R.s will see what they call repeat customers, people who are coming for multiple overdoses. And a lot of public health researchers would say an overdose, and you going to the E.R. is this moment of opportunity. It's like a window when you can reach someone when they're in a terrible circumstance, and maybe you can do some kind of an intervention there.

    So the CDC was suggesting that people should be started on what we call medically assisted treatment. This is methadone or these other opioid substitutes, that you might start people on those medications in the hospital. But, again, that's years of possible treatment going forward.

    They also argue that we should be giving more Narcan to family members, so that if you were there at the bedside with a loved one, teach those people how to use Narcan in case this happens again.

    Additionally, the thing the CDC was really pressing was the importance of having someone who can shepherd that person out of hospital and into treatment, because, too often, we just bandage them up and let them go, and they find treatment if they're lucky, if they have money.

    And so the idea is, deploy someone to go to the bedside, start a conversation with that person at that very vulnerable moment, and hopefully that person could then become a bridge to walk that person out of the hospital, literally and figuratively, get them into treatment, help them figure it out, help them figure out how to pay for it.

    But, again, these are all relatively small interventions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And these are things — this is the kind of thing, though, that it isn't just — it is getting them into treatment, but then it's following up on this and staying with them, because…

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

    We're talking about years of treatment. This is not a broken arm, you get it fixed and have the cast cut off. You're talking about a lifetime's worth of treatment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. And very hard to this on your own, without help from the outside.

  • William Brangham:

    Indeed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    William Brangham, so disturbing. Thank you very much.

  • William Brangham:

    You're welcome, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can explore all the stories on the opioid crisis that we have done, from the many ways it is crippling communities to new ideas on how the epidemic might be stopped, that and more in our America Addicted series.

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