Substance use & emergency room visits

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) are ideal settings to identify and monitor emerging trends in alcohol and other substance use patterns that increase the risk of injury, overdose or poisoning, and many of the acute harms caused by excessive substance use. Such acute effects contribute to the bulk of alcohol- and drug-caused deaths in Canada but are not systematically monitored. A great proportion of trauma is found in EDs where alcohol and other drugs have been shown as a major risk factor for injury.

Two graphs of self-reported substance use in emergency-room patients in Vancouver and Victoria on a night in 2011

Data collected on late weekend nights in 2011 shows that alcohol was the drug most commonly used by patients in the six hours leading up to their illness or injury for both Vancouver and Victoria emergency rooms. Tobacco was the second-most-common drug, followed by pharmaceuticals (either prescribed or not). For more information, see the Self-reported substance use past six hours section (coming soon).

A graph of AUDIT scores among emergency room visitors in Victoria and Vancouver

The majority of emergency-room patients (nearly 65%) had low- to moderate-risk for alcohol-related harm when tested with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). AUDIT is a well validated and commonly-used scale developed by the World Health Organization that can be used to identify a number of alcohol-related harms such as dependence, blackouts and injuries. This sample included all subjects interviewed as part of the study, whether they had been using substances prior to their injury or not.

Demographics

Approximately 1277 patients participated in between April 2008 and September 2011 (705 in Vancouver and 572 in Victoria). In Vancouver, roughly half of respondents identified as female and the majority identified as heterosexual and just below half  reported being single never married. Vancouver respondents were predominately Caucasian (62.4%), and the next largest group identified as Chinese (11.3%). Over half of the respondents (57.1%) reporting having either full- or part-time employment and under a quarter (18.4%) were attending full-time school (either college or university). Half of the sample was between 25 and 44 years old with a mean age of 37.2 (range 17-75 years).

In Victoria, just under half of respondents  identified as female and the majority identified as heterosexual (87.7%) and just under half reported bring single never married.  Victoria respondents were predominately Caucasian (81%) with the next largest group identifying as being Aboriginal (4.6 %). Just under half of the respondents had either full- or part-time employment and under a quarter (19.4%) reported attending full-time school (either college or university). Just over a third of the sample was 45 years old or older with a mean age of 38.2 (range 17-75 years).                        

Note: The data in this section is drawn from the emergency departments component of the BC alcohol and other drug (AOD) monitoring project. This component seeks to identify and monitor emerging trends in patterns of alcohol and other drug use that increase the risk of injury, overdose, poisoning, and other acute harms. Data collection for this study stopped in September of 2011.