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Going Beyond Chief Complaints to Identify Opioid-Related Emergency Department Visits


Overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids are a growing cause of mortality in the United States. Deaths from opioids have contributed to a rise in the overall mortality rate of middle-aged white males during an era when other demographics are experiencing life expectancy gains. A successful public health intervention to reverse this mortality trend requires a detailed understanding of which populations are most affected and where those populations live. While mortality is the most relevant metric for this emerging challenge, increased burden on laboratory facilities can create significant delays in obtaining confirmation of which patients died from opioid overdoses.

Emergency department visits for opioid overdoses can provide a more timely proxy measure of overall opioid use. Unfortunately, chief complaints do not always contain an indication of opioid involvement. Overdose patients are not always conscious at registration which limits the amount of information they can provide. Menu-driven registration systems can lump all overdoses together regardless of substance. A more complete record of the emergency department interaction, such as that provided by triage notes, could provide the information necessary to differentiate opioid-related visits from other overdoses. 


To identify heroin- and opioid-related emergency department visits using pre-diagnositc data. To demonstrate the value of clinical notes to public health surveillance and situational awareness. 


Submitted by Magou on