Impact of the Opioid Crisis on Rural Emergency Departments

Research center:
Lead researcher:
Project funded:
September 2016
Project completed:
February 2021

The impact of the current opioid crisis has been severe in rural communities. Prior research suggests that rates of death due to opioid poisoning have increased more rapidly in rural than in urban areas, and may now be higher in some predominantly rural states. However, we do not know whether the opioid epidemic places a disproportionate burden on rural emergency departments (EDs). This project addressed this research gap. Its principal aims were: (1) to determine whether rates of opioid-related ED visits have changed over time in rural and urban areas, and whether these changes have resulted in greater rural-urban disparities, (2) to test for rural-urban differences in rates of inpatient admission and death following opioid-related visits, and (3) to examine whether sources of payment for opioid-related ED visits differ across rural and urban settings. To achieve these aims, we conducted quantitative analyses of data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS). We convened a panel of experts on rural emergency medicine, rural hospitals, and rural opioid abuse to work with us on refining the study design and understanding the implications of our findings for policy and practice. Products included a policy brief; an article submitted to a peer-reviewed journal; and conference presentations at the annual meetings of the National Rural Health Association and the National Association for Rural Mental Health.


  • Opioid-Related Visits to Rural Emergency Departments
    Policy Brief
    Maine Rural Health Research Center
    Date: 02/2021
    The purpose of this project was to compare rural and urban opioid-related emergency department visits. Data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample were used to examine rural and urban opioid-related visits over time and to compare the outcomes of these visits.