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Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2003;29(4):789-802.

Changes in substance use associated with emergency room and primary care services utilization in the United States general population: 1995-2000.

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Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Berkeley, California 94709, USA.



The purpose of this study was to compare changes in the prevalence of heavy problem drinking and drug use among those obtaining emergency room (ER), primary care, and other health care services between 1995 and 2000 in the U.S. general population.


Data analyzed are from the Alcohol Research Group's 1995 (n = 4925) and 2000 (n = 7612) National Alcohol Surveys. Data for the 1995 survey was based on face-to-face interviews in respondents' homes in the 48 contiguous states, while the 2000 interview was a random-digit dialing computer-assisted telephone interview of the household population in all 50 states.


Those reporting any health services utilization were less likely to report heavy drinking, two or more alcohol problems, and symptoms of alcohol dependence during the previous year in 2000 compared with 1995, but heavy or problem drinking was not predictive of health services utilization at either time. Controlling for demographic characteristics and health insurance coverage, illicit drug users were almost twice as likely [odds ratio (OR) = 1.85] compared with nonusers, to report ER utilization, and one and a half times more likely (OR = 1.55) to report primary care utilization during the past year in the 2000 survey, but drug use was not significantly predictive of health services utilization in 1995.


These data suggest that while those alcohol-involved individuals were no more likely than others to use ER and primary care services in either 1995 or 2000, those drug-involved individuals were more likely to do so in 2000, perhaps related to the fact that these individuals may be incurring more health problems associated with their drug use that require medical attention. While identification and intervention with problem drinkers in clinical settings has received a great deal of attention, drug users may be overrepresented in health service settings, and such settings also may provide a window of opportunity for screening and intervention for a reduction in drug-related problems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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