Drug-Related ER Visits

Emergency room trips all too common with drug abuse and overdose

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Emergency rooms (ER) report all drug-related information to a special government public health watchdog. Reports of drug overdoses and adverse reactions are through the roof, compared to a few years ago.

The 2010 US drug-related emergency room report was just released. Nearly half of all drug-related ER visits are related to abuse or overdose, while the other half are from bad side effects to drugs.

"Talk to your kids about the dangers of drug abuse."

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) is a public health agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services.

SAMHSA’s main objective is to “[R]educe the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.”

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) is a public health surveillance system under the jurisdiction of SAMHSA. DAWN monitors drug-related emergency room visits and drug-related deaths investigated by medical examiners.

The goal of DAWN is to provide SAMHSA with accurate, current and detailed information concerning illicit drugs, pharmaceuticals and alcohol.

This information compiled by DAWN is intended to better inform public health agencies to shape policy for the, “prevention, intervention and treatment of substance abuse.”

The 2010 report evaluated 4.9 million drug-related ER visits in the US.

Drug abuse or misuse caused 47 percent of the ER visits. Bad reactions to a drug accounted for another 47 percent of ER visits.

ER visits related to the abuse or misuse of pharmaceuticals was more common than those for illicit drugs, 435 vs. 378 per 100,000.

Between 2004 and 2010, the abuse or misuse of pharmaceuticals went from 626,472 to 1,345,645, an increase of 115 percent in just six years.

Isolating ER visits due to bad reactions to pharmaceuticals, taken as prescribed, by a medical professional increased by 86 percent between 2005 and 2010.

ER visits due to misuse or abuse of illicit drugs showed cocaine as the most common drug at 210 per 100,000 visits. Marijuana was the runner up at 151 visits per 100,000. Third in line was heroin, at 93 per 100,000 and fourth was amphetamines or methamphetamines at 55 per 100,000.

The DAWN report will hopefully provide useful insight for future action to lower these drug-related ER visits and improve healthy living in the US.

This DAWN report was made available in July on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 11, 2012
Last Updated:
January 9, 2013