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Report: Pa. hospital admissions for opioid overdoses fallLocal hospitals cite fewer prescriptions, more outreach

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Hospital admissions for pain medication overdoses fell 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017 while heroin-overdose hospitalizations continued to climb, albeit at their slowest pace in years, according to a new report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

The number of admissions for pain medication overdoses in Pennsylvania hospitals decreased from 1,787 in 2016 to 1,747, with commonly prescribed medications like oxycodone being the leading contributor, according to the council, also known as PHC4.

The report also revealed that while the number of hospital admissions for heroin overdose rose between 2016 and 2017, the 12.7 percent increase was the smallest it has been in recent years. Between 2011 and 2016, the average annual increase was 24 percent.

According to to Dr. Chris Echterling, medical director of vulnerable populations for WellSpan Medical Group, the decrease in admissions from pain medications may be a result of doctors prescribing less opioids and increased security in hospitals.

WellSpan has cut its opioid usage, according to Echterling, by about 25 percent, and plans to continue reducing it with help from state and federal programs.

In October, Gov. Tom Wolf awarded a $1 million grant to WellSpan, along with three other organizations, to establish medication-assisted treatment programs for people struggling with opioid addiction. The programs include increasing the accessibility of naloxone, a drug that treats and reverses the symptoms of an opioid overdose.

Alice Yoder, director of community health at Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine and facilitator of Lancaster County Joining Forces Coalition, believes that the work her coalition has done in its first year has contributed to the decline in opioid overdose admissions. The nine-member coalition consists of organizations representing health care, local government and law enforcement, such as the Anti-Heroin Task Force, Lancaster County Recovery Alliance and the nonprofit Compass Mark.

"We are definitely seeing this decrease in Lancaster County," Yoder said. "When we started Joining Forces we came up with a plan to focus on evidence-based practices that have been used across the country and taking them to scale."

The evidence-based practices include making sure that all first responders and police have naloxone available on-site, rather than waiting until they reach the hospital. Joining Forces has also emphasized spreading the word about opioid addiction and the importance of safely locking away opioids in households.

According to the PHC4 report, Lancaster County has a rate of hospitalization for opioid overdose per 100,000 residents of 53.2, relatively low compared to Cambria County, which leads the state with a 102.1 rate, and below the state average of 64.6 admissions. Cumberland County's rate was even lower at 37.3; Dauphin County had a 61.9 rating; while Lebanon and York had rates of 58.7 and 68.7, respectively.

Yoder also said that Joining Forces’ mission extends beyond just preventing opioid addiction. The coalition also works with people who have already become addicted to opioids and follows them through their rehabilitation.

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