The opioid epidemic is growing more rapidly than many had predicted, and expanding in ways that might be a surprise to the health community, policy makers and others.

“Between 2005 and 2014 (the most recent year for which state-by-state data are available) there was a dramatic increase nationally in hospitalizations involving opioids: the rate of opioid-related inpatient stays increased 64 percent, and the rate of opioid-related emergency department (ED) visits nearly doubled,” according to a report published this summer by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among some of the report’s key findings is that women now are seeking treatment for addiction at the same rate as males. “In 2005, males had a higher rate of opioid-related inpatient stays than did females (145.6 vs. 127.8 per 100,000 population). Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of opioid-related inpatient stays increased 55 percent for males and 75 percent for females. By 2014, the rates of opioid-related inpatient stays for males and for females converged and were virtually identical (225.0 vs. 224.1 per 100,000 population), according to the study. Similar trend is occurring in opioid-related visits to hospital emergency departments by women.

In Minnesota, the report found that by 2014, females had a higher rate of opioid-related inpatient stays than did males in the majority of states, although males still account for more emergency department visits.

Nationally, the report found that the “highest rates of opioid-related inpatient stays were among patients aged 25–44 and 45–64 years, whereas the highest rate of opioid-related ED visits was among patients aged 25–44 years. For opioid-related inpatient stays, patients aged 25–44 and 45–64 years had the highest and nearly identical rates throughout 2005 to 2014. Patients aged 65 years and older had the next highest rate of opioid-related inpatient stays over time. For opioid-related ED visits, patients aged 25–44 years had the highest rate, followed by patients aged 45–64 years and those aged 1–24 years.”

Minnesota hasn’t been hit as hard as some other states by the opioid epidemic, but its impact is growing and is seen in the rates of those seeking treatment, especially among the very young and the elderly. Minnesota is among the top 25 percent of states in the opioid-related inpatient rates among those ages 1-24 and 65 and older.

The good news is that Minnesota also is a leader in finding alternatives to opioid painkillers. Medtronic, for example, recently announced a new “spinal-cord stimulation system that uses electric pulses to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain,” according to the Star Tribune .  The University of Minnesota is researching non-addictive painkillers that it hopes “could help people suffering from chronic pain without the risk of addiction.”