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Kaohsiung J Med Sci. 2013 Jun;29(6):319-24. doi: 10.1016/j.kjms.2012.10.002. Epub 2013 Mar 22.

Early predictors of narcotics-dependent patients in the emergency department.

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Division of Trauma, Department of Surgery, Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.


It is not unusual that narcotics-dependent patients fulfill their medical requirements in the emergency department (ED). The behavior of these patients varies, and their manifestations and predictors are still not fully studied. We performed this retrospective study by prospectively collecting data on patients with suspected drug dependence who were undiagnosed at first and then treated for some kind of reported pain at the ED. Patients who were confirmed to have narcotics dependence were compared with control patients in a ratio of 1:3 matching for age, gender, disease, and clinical diagnoses. From January 2006 to October 2009, 26 of 223 patients treated for pain were found to be drug dependent (12 males and 14 females). The average dose of narcotics used was higher than the control group [3.23 ± 1.14 vs. 1.12 ± 0.36, p < 0.001, confidence interval (CI): 1.648-2.583]. Numbers of patients making unscheduled returns to the ED within 24 hours were significant [24/26 vs. 8/78, p ≤ 0.001, odds ratio (OR) 105.00, 95% CI 20.834-529.175]. In addition, patients showing aggressive attitudes were significant (17/26 vs. 2/78, p < 0.001, OR 71.78, 95% CI 14.206-362.663). In the case group, six of them told the physician that they were allergic to medicines other than the particular one they wanted, and three of the six presented injuries that were reported to be in the same (or repeated) place for unscheduled returns, which were not found in the control group. In this study, some behaviors were commonly observed in the at-risk group. These patients were prone to manifest some types of symptoms and behaviors, such as uncontrolled pain with three doses of analgesics, aggressive attitude, returning to the ED within 24 hours with the complaint of the same severe pain, repeating the same injury, claiming allergy to other analgesics, and asking for certain analgesics. All these behaviors should alert the physician to suspect a drug-seeking problem.

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