Hospital Emergency Visits Involving Drugs

Observing trends in drug use on a national basis helps policymakers to make decisions about how best to serve the needs of the population. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides regular reports about trends in drug use. To gather information about drug abuse, misuse and potential drug abuse, SAMHSA relies on the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which records data about every patient that is treated in a hospital emergency department related to drug or alcohol use. SAMHSA issues regular reports that detail trends tracked from DAWN. The reports based on DAWN data often focus on a particular segment of the population or a certain type of drug or group of drugs. However, a recent report issued by SAMHSA provides highlights of the 2011 DAWN findings for all drug-related emergency department cases. The highlights show that 5.1 million emergency department visits were related to drugs in 2011. Approximately one-half of those, or 49 percent, were related to the misuse or abuse or drugs, and 45 percent were recorded as an adverse reaction to a drug. The visits that were related to the use of illicit drugs remained stable between 2004 and 2009 (991,640 visits and 974,392 visits, respectively), but between 2009 and 2011 there was a significant increase to 1,252,500 visits. There were also some increases related to specific types of drugs. For instance, there was a 68 percent increase in the cases involving illicit stimulants, and there was a 19 percent increase in visits related to marijuana use. There was a significant increase in the emergency department visits that involved pharmaceutical drugs between the years 2004 and 2011 (626,470 and 1,428,145, respectively), with anti-anxiety and insomnia medications reported most commonly. These two drugs accounted for 160.9 and 134.8 visits, respectively, per a 100,000 population. There was also a significant increase in adverse reactions to drugs that resulted in an emergency department visit. In 2005 there were 1,250,377 visits related to adverse reactions. By 2009, that number had reached 2,287,271. However, there was not a significant increase between 2009 and 2011, when 2,301,059 visits related to adverse reactions were recorded. The information gathered by DAWN analyses is used at all levels of government to aid communities in developing intervention, education and prevention programs. The information is also used to determine whether adequate substance abuse treatment is available where it is most needed. The reports also help to highlight trends in drug misuse and abuse. Where a steep increase in the use of a certain type of drug surfaces, it can be addressed strategically by those who develop educational materials and programs. In addition, the reports are helpful for public health organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration, in identifying trends in adverse reactions to drugs. The information is used to make informed decisions relative to drug labeling and dosage advisories.

Scroll to Top