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Frequent Emergency Department Users tend to have Addiction Problems

Update Date: May 17, 2014 10:56 AM EDT

In a new study, researchers examined "super-frequent user" patients who are people who seek medical care from the emergency department (ED) of a hospital more often than other people. The researchers from Henry Ford Hospital found that the majority of these super-frequent users have a substance abuse addiction.

In this study, the researchers defined a super-frequent user as someone who went to the ED at least 10 times within a year. For years, ED doctors have theorized that patients who return to the ED tend to be addicts seeking medical care due to substance abuse. However, only a few studies have tried to quantify the make-up of these patients.

This study found that 77 percent of the super-frequent users had a substance abuse addiction. 47 percent had an addiction to pain-relievers, such as Vicodin and Dilaudid, 44 percent were addicted to other illicit substances, such as cocaine or marijuana and 35 percent had an alcohol addiction.

"Emergency Departments cannot address the super-frequent users problem without addressing the underlying reason they're here - their substance abuse problem," stated study's lead author, Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, R.N., Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Henry Ford's Department of Emergency Medicine. "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."

She added, according to the press release, "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."

The study was presented at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) annual meeting in Dallas, TX.

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