Every county in New York has been touched by the opioid epidemic. Yates is no exception.

According to a new report of hospital admission and emergency department data from Common Ground Health, Yates County experienced the second highest rate of opioid abuse in the Finger Lakes region in 2016.

In 2016, Yates County residents visited hospital emergency departments (EDs) for opioid abuse or overdoses 43 times, and three people died from the powerful pain killers, the report shows. The analysis also confirmed what anecdotal evidence has pointed to for years — that many residents struggling with addiction began their opioid dependence with a prescription from their doctor.

The report found that from 2014 to 2016, 54 percent of people who overdosed on opioids in the region had a prescription for opioids within the prior two years. For non-heroin opioid overdoses, the relationship was even stronger; 68 percent of people who overdosed had prior prescriptions for painkillers.

“As opioid deaths and overdoses continue to devastate many in our region, it is critical that we better understand how individuals are becoming dependent,” says Albert Blankley, director of research and analytics for Common Ground Health. “These data show that for some individuals, prescription medications may contribute to or trigger the problem.”

Local officials believe those numbers are below the actual figures for a variety of reasons. At the last meeting of the Yates Substance Abuse Coalition Jan. 17, Yates County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Scott Backer noted that many of the overdose cases police respond to are never taken to hospitals. Treated at the scene with Narcan, an opioid antidote, once revived, many overdose victims refuse transport to hospitals for further treatment. Backer also notes that area drug users travel to Rochester to buy and end up overdosing there. Consequently, those victims may not be included in the study’s numbers for Yates County.

At the same meeting, Kathy Swarthout, Yates County Public Health Educator, says some people are treated at hospitals outside the county, and those numbers may not be reported back for Yates County’s statistics. However, a state Department of Health report says hospital statistics are reported on a county of residence basis.

Deborah A Minor, Director of Public Health for Yates County, adds, “If a patient at the ED was charted with a different chief complaint other than ‘overdose,’ we would not know the connection either, like cardiac arrest or some form of injury. We would not be able to identify the connection with an overdose in these situations.”

According to the most recent New York State County Opioid Quarterly Report, published in October 2017, there were three opioid overdose deaths in Yates County in 2016, all involving opioid pain relievers. There were a total of 22 opioid overdoses, 16 which were heroin, treated in emergency departments, according to the DOH report.

That report also states that 92 Yates County residents were admitted to chemical dependence treatment programs for heroin abuse and a total of 126 were admitted for all opioids in 2016. That same report documents that emergency responders administered Naloxone 18 times and law enforcement administered Naloxone three times in 2016 in Yates County.

A spokesperson for the DOH cautions that statistics are subject to change because of additional data from toxicology and other reporting systems being collected at different times.

Nationally, the CDC projects that drug overdose deaths have increased at least 21 percent from 2015 to 2016, with much of that increase driven by opioids. Yet in the Finger Lakes region, overdose deaths involving opioids soared 46 percent from 2015 to 2016. Alarmingly, heroin overdoses more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, with 613 overdoses across the region.

These statistics alone, however, understate the magnitude of the opioid crisis in the Finger Lakes region, the Common Ground report noted. From 2005 to 2016, hospital visits related to opioid dependency or abuse increased 432 percent.

The issue brief also reported that:

• African Americans had significantly lower rates of opioid related ED visits than Whites or Hispanics, although all demographic groups experienced huge increases since 2010.

• Opioid addiction crosses all ages. Pain medication overdose in 2016 was highest among those 50 and older, while heroin overdose was most prevalent among 15- to 29-year olds in our region.

• Addiction is both rural and urban. The rate of opioid driven ED visits has grown in every county in the region, with the highest rates seen in Yates and Chemung.

To stem the epidemic, doctors are beginning to curb the amount of narcotics they prescribe, and local organizations are developing new approaches to the public health crisis. For example, new medication drop boxes are being added throughout the region, so residents can properly dispose of unused prescriptions.

Overdose and abuse statistics are based on data from the Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System (SPARCS) and NYS Vital Statistics. Opioid prescription rates were analyzed using Common Ground Health’s database of insurance claims.

Includes reporting by John Christensen