Substance Abuse and Emergency Room Visits: 'Super Frequent Users' may have Addiction Problems

First Posted: May 18, 2014 06:06 PM EDT

Those who visit the emergency room more frequently than others may signal a sign of a substance abuse disorder. 

According to researchers from Henry Ford's Department of Emergency Medicine, what's defined as a "super frequent user" or someone who visits the emergency room at least 10 times within a year may indicated sign of addiction.

Researchers note that this is one of very few studies that have worked to quantify the make-up of addicts seeking medical care for their substance abuse issues.

Findings revealed that around 77 percent of the super-frequent users had a substance abuse addiction, with 47 percent addicted to pain-relievers and 44 percent addicted to other illicit substances, including cocaine and marijuana. Thirty-five percent of participants also suffered from an alcohol addiction.

"Emergency Departments cannot address the super-frequent users problem without addressing the underlying reason they're here - their substance abuse problem," said lead study author, Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, R.N., Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Henry Ford's Department of Emergency Medicine, via a press release. "Boosting federal and state funding for substance abuse programs could help alleviate some of the frequent use of Emergency Departments as sources of addiction care." 

"Emergency Departments that implement case management initiatives can make meaningful progress in addressing their frequent-user patient population. As our study showed the number of frequent users visiting the ED for narcotics is alarming. A successful remedy to curtailing that problem is implementing case management strategies such as ours. However, if Emergency Departments don't have the resources to create a program, instituting narcotic prescribing guidelines may lead to decreased visits by frequent users."

More information regarding the findings was presented at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) annual meeting in Dallas, Tex.

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