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Emergency patients who use drugs tend to be problematic users

July 8, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A majority of hospital emergency patients who report past-month drug use meet criteria for problematic use, a finding that reinforces the notion that the emergency setting offers a prime opportunity for addressing individuals' substance use problems. The numbers are particularly striking for individuals who consider a drug other than marijuana to be their primary substance, according to a study published online this month in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Lead author Wendy Macias-Konstantopoulos, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital reported that in a group of more than 3,200 patients reporting drug use in the previous month, 64.3% met criteria for problematic use. The percentages were 90.7% for individuals reporting primary use of a drug other than marijuana, and 46.6% for primary users of marijuana.

The group reporting marijuana as their drug of choice tended to be younger (mainly under age 30) than the group with primary use of another drug.

“Patients with drug problems who visit the ER may present 'teachable moments,'” Macias-Konstantopoulos said in a July 7 news release. “An emergency department-based effort to connect problematic drug users with treatment could ultimately decrease overall health care costs.”

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