Lancaster County had one of the state’s highest number of hospitalizations for overdoses of heroin and pain medication in 2016, according to a new report.
A total of 127 people were hospitalized in the county for drug overdoses in 2016, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council said.
That number was topped only by Philadelphia, Allegheny (including Pittsburgh) and three suburban Philadelphia counties, according to the council.
The report comes out every two years and focuses on one year of data. In 2014, the total number of hospitalizations in the state for heroin and pain medication overdoses was 1,848. In 2016, the number was 79 percent higher, at 3,299.
“It’s not necessarily a surprise,” said Dr. Chris Echterling, WellSpan Health’s medical director for vulnerable populations.
“The opioid epidemic is still ravaging our communities,” he said.
Echterling said changes in health care, such as monitoring prescription practices and offering an addiction specialist to overdose victims, will pay off eventually.
“But right now, folks are still struggling with the life-threatening disease of addiction and they are dying.”
Hospitalizations for heroin overdoses took a 66 percent jump across the state in 2016, a rate the council called “skyrocketing.”
Police officer Chris Green thought it was just another routine traffic stop.
At the same time, hospitalizations for pain medication overdoses were down slightly, the council said, but because those cases are coded differently since 2015, the figures reflect an increase.
At least 3 percent of all patients hospitalized for overdoses had previously overdosed, the council reported.
“These new findings continue to stress the devastating impact of drugs on Pennsylvania families, communities and taxpayers, regardless of age, race, gender, income level or where one lives,” Joe Martin, the council’s executive director, said in a press release.
Martin said the 3,299 hospitalizations for drug overdoses by Pennsylvania residents last year cost public and private health insurance companies about $27 million.
In 2014, the cost for covering drug overdoses was $12.2 million, according to the council.
“The cost we’re seeing in the death of young people makes any financial costs pale in comparison,” Echterling said. “We are losing a whole generation of bright, caring, productive people.”
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The report showed the average age in Pennsylvania for heroin overdoses was 33, while the average age for a pain-medication overdose was 54. Statewide there were 28 admissions for pain-medication overdose in patients younger than 15.
The report broke down the heroin overdoses by racial groups, as well. The council reported the highest rate of heroin overdose was among whites, second was Hispanics and lowest was blacks.
Males overdosed more than females on heroin, while females were more likely than males to overdose on pain medication, according to the report.
Echterling said hospitals are continuing to provide services to overdose victims, regardless of the costs.
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“Many people, by the time they overdose, have no insurance or medical assistance, which rarely compensates anyone for the cost of the care provided,” Echterling said.
“At WellSpan, we’re committed to doing the right thing and caring for people, and when someone is in front of you and they’ve overdosed, you treat them and figure out the rest later,” Echterling said.
WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital is the only hospital in the county, so far, to initiate a “warm hand-off’’ program, which provides a recovery specialist to meet overdose victims in the emergency room and try to get them into treatment.
Alice Yoder, director of community wellness at Lancaster General Health/Penn medicine, in a statement said:
“Lancaster General Health identified substance abuse as a top community health priority and is working with hospitals and other community organizations to implement proven approaches to prevent addiction and increase knowledge of the services available for those affected by the disease.’’