By Taylor Knopf

Opioid abuse has become a top priority for most every public health organization in the nation, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One way the CDC is helping combat opioid abuse is by keeping close tabs on the statistics. Overdose deaths and emergency room data that once took the organization two years to collect and report to the public is now out in seven months, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald said during a press conference Monday.

a harsh looking woman speaks at a podium while a tall man and a woman watch.
CMS administrator Seema Verma speaks to reporters Monday, while CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald and acting HHS Sec. Eric Hargan look on. Photo credit: Taylor Knopf

This is data reported by hospitals, medical examiners and coroners to local health departments and collected by the CDC.

“This can help pinpoint hot spots where prevention programs, treatment and recovery services are needed,” she said.

“Almost 100 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses,” Fitzgerald added. “Opioid deaths are just a tip of the iceberg considering the number of people who are using opioids or misusing illegal drugs. Time and again we hear people get started on the road to addiction by taking opioids prescribed to them.”

North Carolina has paralleled the nation, with overdose deaths climbing from 109 deaths in 1999 to 1,384 in 2016. A total of 10,993 North Carolinians died from opioid overdose during that time.

According to North Carolina Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina will likely see an average of four deaths per day from opioids soon.

Emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses have increased across the state, from 3,155 in 2011 to 4,236 so far this year.

The CDC has set opioid guidelines for prescribers and is helping states with prescription drug monitoring programs. The purpose of these programs is to track individual doctors prescribing and to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for excess opioid prescriptions.

The North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT) is North Carolina’s statewide epidemiology surveillance system. Created in 2004, NC DETECT gathers data from emergency departments in North Carolina, the Carolinas Poison Center and other locations. This tool gives researchers faster access to current and recent information in order to track outbreaks, and hopefully, intervene to slow or stop the spread of diseases or epidemics.
Acting federal HHS Secretary Eric Hargan and Administrator Seema Verma from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services met with CDC staff on Monday to discuss ways to combat the opioid abuse problem in America.

During the press conference, Hargan said opioid abuse is a top priority for his department and for President Trump, calling it a public health crisis of historic proportions.

Hargan said HHS is focusing on better surveillance of the opioid crisis with the help of the CDC.

“If you’re not aware of something you can’t know how to fight it,” he said. “We need better data on this epidemic.”

Hargan added that the HHS plan for combating substance opioid includes: more pain and addiction research; finding better overdose reversal drugs; better pain treatment options; and more prevention, treatment and recovery services.

This story was reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where reporter Taylor Knopf is working this week as part of a Association of Health Care Journalists policy fellowship.


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Taylor Knopf writes about mental health, including addiction and harm reduction. She lives in Raleigh and previously wrote for The News & Observer. Knopf has a bachelor's degree in sociology with a...