Seattle is first in trips to ER for drug use
By Seatle PI – Thursday September 5 2002
Copyright: Seatle PI
The Seattle area had the highest rate of drug-related emergency-room visits in a government survey of 21 metropolitan areas, according to results released yesterday.
The Seattle area also had the highest increase — 32 percent — in the number of drug-related visits. The increase stemmed from almost all types of drug use.
Overall, drug-related emergency-room visits rose to a record level of more than 600,000, with sharp increases because of heroin and club drug ecstasy use, according to the survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The study includes data from such metro areas as San Francisco, Baltimore and Philadelphia, and from hospitals in King and Snohomish counties.
“The survey is a cause for us to continue our ongoing concern about the impact of substance abuse, and to expand our treatment capacity and prevention capacity,” said Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County.
But Plough said the survey should be interpreted with caveats.
It doesn’t sort out multiple visits by one person. It doesn’t show information on direct drug use, and deals only with hospital visits. And its results are partially at odds with local surveys.
From 1999 to 2000, the number of drug-related emergency room visits in the Seattle area increased from 8,426 to 11,116. There were 563 such visits per 100,000 population.
Visits for marijuana or hashish last year, at 1,414, increased by 75 percent. There were 540 meth-related visits, up by 53 percent. And the 3,338 cocaine-related visits were up by 32 percent.
Seattle also ranked high in the rate of hospital visits for ecstasy and LSD.
Drugs such as ecstasy, Rohypnol and Ketamine are called club drugs because of their growing popularity among young people, who tend to use them at dance clubs.
Plough said the increase in hospital visits, particularly for cocaine, may stem from public campaigns for drug users to get help.
“Our first message is ‘don’t use.’ Then if you do use, get into treatment. And if you are using and there are signs of overdose, get to the emergency room,” he said.
“It could be the same prevalence of drug use, with more emergency room, health-seeking behaviors.”
Traditionally, Seattle has ranked high in increasing heroin visits. But last year, those visits inched up only slightly to 2,522. Coupled with the decline in local heroin overdoses, Plough said the data may show “incremental headway.”
He said the survey’s data on marijuana conflicts with local school surveys that show a decline in marijuana use. And he said the data on meth visits reinforces other indicators that the drug’s rise is continuing. “Our metro area of 3 million has the same kind of problems as Baltimore, Los Angeles and New York,” he said. “Just like those other cities, we need to continue to rally for access to treatment.”
At Harborview Medical Center, Chris Martin, administrative director of emergency services, said drug abuse cuts through all demographic groups. In particular, she is alarmed at the rise in ecstasy use at raves by younger drug abusers.
“When there’s a rave, we get inundated here,” she said. “The kids are totally dehydrated, and medics can’t manage them at the scene.”
Overall, the annual report recorded 601,776 emergency room trips related to drugs in 2000, up from 554,932 a year earlier and the highest since the statistics first were collected in the mid-1980s.
“This report shows again that we face serious gaps in preventing and treating substance abuse, especially with club drugs,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
“Our first line of defense against substance abuse must be prevention. We need to reach out to people before they become statistics in emergency departments — or worse, in the morgue,” he said in a statement.
Nationally, the study found a 15 percent rise in emergency room visits related to heroin and morphine, jumping from 84,409 in 1999 to 97,287 last year.
And the increase for ecstasy was 58 percent, from 2,850 to 4,511.
Boston and Los Angeles ranked second and third among cities reporting increases in overall drug-related emergency room trips.
Other findings of the report:
Cocaine-related visits constituted 29 percent — 174,896 — of all drug-related emergency room visits in 2000, more than any other illicit substance measured.
Marijuana-hashish visits increased in Seattle, Boston, Miami, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago.
Emergency department mentions of prescription drugs containing oxycodone increased 68 percent from 6,429 to 10,825. One brand of oxycodone, OxyContin, has been blamed in several deaths, though it is not the only drug containing oxycodone.