EMS Data Insights: Rising Opioid Overdose Rates

  • Posted on September 20, 2021

To first responders on the ground every day, it’s no secret that the United States has – for decades now – been experiencing a healthcare crisis when it comes to opioid use and overdose. Using EMS response data submitted by EMS agencies across the nation, metrics for early 2021 are unfortunately showing an uptick in opioid overdoses.

The History of the Opioid Crisis

From the first wave in the late 1990s when prescriptions for opioids were at an all-time high, the number of overdoses have quadrupled, with more than 70% of overdose deaths in 2019 involving some sort of opioid. The form of the drugs has evolved over time, from prescription heroin to fentanyl, but all remain addictive and potentially fatal.

In response, the CDC and other healthcare agencies have developed innovative ways to work with local governments and communities to fight the opioid crisis, leaning heavily on timely, real-world data. Using data trends and overdose tracking, cities have formed intervention programs for the most at-risk communities, raised public awareness, and better equipped public safety agencies to respond.

Current Opioid Overdose Data from EMS Agencies

At the core of these efforts is EMS response data, specifically data about overdose rates involving opioids. Thanks to electronic patient care records (ePCRs), incident data is immediately digitized and available for inclusion in agency, local, state, and national databases. Data can be easily sorted and analyzed based on geographic location or a range of other characteristics.

ESO produces an annual EMS Index and Mid-Year Update based on data from millions of de-identified 911 patient encounters. Each Index highlights key trends and interprets the data to provide best practices and key insights for EMS agencies. Opioid overdose rates have been a consistent point of interest.

The 2021 ESO EMS Index: Mid-Year Update, which features data from EMS calls from January 1 – June 30, 2021, shows an upward trend in opioid overdoses. In 2020, the rate of EMS calls involving suspected opioid overdose was 2.7% (the highest seen since creating the Index). In the first half of 2021, however, that number jumped even higher to 2.8%.

This trend illustrates the need for continued outreach and prevention efforts as well as the need for the most up-to-date training for EMS clinicians. It is important to stay up-to-date on the types of opioids that are most commonly used in communities, and how and when to administer naloxone kits. And by employing opioid response best practices like diligently tracking overdose cases and naloxone administration within communities, EMS agencies can continue contributing to the development of a more accurate picture of how opioids are affecting our communities.

EMS agencies will continue to be the eyes and ears for those hoping to stem the tide of increasing opioid overdoses. By reporting accurate and timely information, EMS clinicians can not only be more prepared to respond to their communities, but can also contribute to controlling the opioid crisis both locally and nationally.

To read more about other top trends in EMS data, download the 2021 ESO EMS Index: Mid-Year Update now.