Report: Pain medicine abuse worse than heroin in region

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]

Those who overdose on opioids in our region are much more likely to land in the hospital because of pain-medicine abuse than heroin, a report shows.

The data for area counties reflects a state-wide reality, though local counties often show a bigger discrepancies between heroin and prescription medications. Statewide, pain medication was the reason for hospitalization of 33.3 people per 100,000 residents, while heroin was the cause for 31.2 per 100,000.

By comparison, in Lackawanna County pain medication was the cause in 54.7 cases per 100,000 residents, while heroin was involved in only 14.8 per 100,000. Luzerne County fell below the state average in both categories, but still had many more pain medication hospitalizations — 32.6 per 100,000 compared to 21.8 per 100,000 involving heroin.

Only Carbon County bucked the trend regionally, with pain medication hospitalization at a rate of 22.3 per 100,000, while heroin accounted for 33.5 per 100,000.

The report, from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, looked at data from 2017 for those age 15 and older admitted to general acute care hospitals. It did not report data for counties with cases below a certain rate. Three regional rural counties fell in that category: Montour, Sullivan and Wyoming.

The policy brief focused on breaking down abuse hospitalizations by age, income and ethnicity, though data for those categories was not provided at the county level. The key finding: Opioid abuse generally does not discriminate.

State-wide, residents ages 15-34 had the highest hospitalization rate for heroin overdose, at 28.8 per 100,000. Residents age 55 and older had the lowest rate at 5.3 per 100,000, but had the highest increase, 35.8 percent over the 2016 rate of 3.9 per 100,000.

Those 55 or older, however, had the highest rate of hospitalization for overdose of pain medication, 19.8 per 100,000, while those 15-34 had a rate of 11 per 100,000. The younger group, on the other hand, was the only age group to see an increase in the rate of pain medicine overdoses, rising from 10.2 per 100,000. The other two age groups — 35-54 and 55 or older — saw slight decreases from 2016.

Heroin overdoses were relatively even among blacks, Hispanics and whites: 16.7, 19.3 and 16.3 per 100,000 respectively. Hispanics were less likely to suffer pain medication overdoses at a rate of 9.4 per 100,000, compared to 17 for Whites and 18.5 for Blacks.

Higher income generally decreases the statistical likelihood of overdosing on either.

Among those making less than $30,000, the rate of heroin overdose was 40.5 per 100,000 residents, while for pain medication overdoses it was 27.5. For heroin, the overdose rates were 17.1 for $30,000 to $60,000, 13.2 for $60,000 to $90,000 and 9.9 for $90,000 or more. For Pain medication, the respective rates were 18.9, 11.8 and 10.4.

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish