Tracking suspected heroin overdoses in CDC's National Syndromic Surveillance Program


Overdose deaths involving opioids (i.e., opioid pain relievers and illicit opioids such as heroin) accounted for at least 63% (N = 33,091) of overdose deaths in 2015. Overdose deaths related to illicit opioids, heroin and illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, have rapidly increased since 2010. For instance, heroin overdose deaths quadrupled from 3,036 in 2010 to 12,989 in 2015. Unfortunately, timely response to emerging trends is inhibited by time lags for national data on both overdose mortality via vital statistics (8-12 months) and morbidity via hospital discharge data (over 2 years). Emergency department (ED) syndromic data can be leveraged to respond more quickly to emerging drug overdose trends as well as identify drug overdose outbreaks. CDC’s NSSP BioSense Platform collects near real-time ED data on approximately two-thirds of ED visits in the US. NSSP’s data analysis and visualization tool, Electronic Surveillance System for the Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE), allows for tailored syndrome queries and can monitor ED visits related to heroin overdose at the local, state, regional, and national levels quicker than hospital discharge data.


This paper analyzes emergency department syndromic data in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Syndromic Surveillance Program’s (NSSP) BioSense Platform to understand trends in suspected heroin overdose.

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January, 2018

January 21, 2018

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The National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) is a collaboration among states and public health jurisdictions that contribute data to the BioSense Platform, public health practitioners who use local syndromic surveillance systems, CDC programs, other federal agencies, partner organizations, hospitals, healthcare professionals, and academic institutions.

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