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About 360,000 ED Visits Were for Nonmedical Drug Abuse in 2016

More than half of estimated visits also involved nonpharmaceutical substances, including drugs, alcohol

emergency room sign

WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2019 (Pharmacist's Briefing) -- In 2016, there were an estimated 358,247 emergency department visits for harms from nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals, according to a study published online March 6 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Andrew I. Geller, M.D., from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues collected data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance project to calculate estimates of emergency department visits for harms from nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals.

The researchers estimated there were 358,247 emergency department visits for harms from nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals in 2016; 41.1 percent resulted in hospitalization. Overall, 50.9 percent of estimated visits involved patients aged ≤34 years. More than half of estimated visits (52.9 percent) also involved nonpharmaceutical substances, including illicit drugs and alcohol (34.1 and 21.8 percent, respectively). Benzodiazepines were implicated in 46.9 percent of estimated emergency department visits for nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals; in 6.5 percent of visits, they were the only substance implicated. Prescription opioids were implicated in 36.2 percent of visits and were the only substance implicated in 11.3 percent.

"Although opioids and benzodiazepines account for most nonmedical use visits, additional substances (licit and illicit) are often involved," the authors write. "Prescribing physicians should consider implementing specific screening to address polysubstance use and, when warranted, treatment interventions."

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