OHSU Presents Data On Meth-Related Emergency Department Visits

04/02/11  Portland, Ore.

Meth visits account for an estimated $6.9 million in annual charges.

Oregon Health & Science University has conducted the first prospective analysis of the burden of methamphetamines on emergency departments. The study analyzed data from all OHSU Emergency Department (ED) visits during a 20-week time period last spring.

All 15,341 patient visits to the OHSU ED between Feb. 12, 2006, and June 24, 2006, were categorized as being meth-related or not. Care providers were educated about the signs of meth use and provided with information about how meth affects the body and brain. Each patient was asked if his or her visit was meth-related and evaluated for symptoms of meth use. This analysis along with any other specific evidence confirming meth use, such as a positive drug screen, was used by the provider to categorize whether the visit was meth-related.

The OHSU ED saw an average of 17.8 meth-related visits per week during this time period, which accounted for 2.3 percent of all ED visits. These visits accounted for an average of $133,212 in weekly hospital charges, or an estimated annual cost of $6.9 million.

"This is what we were thinking all along in terms of number of patients and patient profile," said Rob Hendrickson, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine and study author. "What was surprising was the amount of money associated with the care of these patients."

Previous studies have retrospectively analyzed patient charts to determine meth-related visits. These studies estimated the number of meth-related visits based on patients who had a drug screen positive for meth. However, few patients have drug screens, and a positive screen only means the patient has used meth during the past three days, not that the visit is related to meth use. This study should provide more accurate numbers for evaluating the burden of meth use on ED resources.

Hendrickson found patients whose visits were meth-related were more likely to be white, male and uninsured. Mental conditions were the primary medical condition associated with these visits, accounting for 18.4 percent of meth-related ED visits.  Trauma (17.6 percent), skin infections (11 percent), dental disorders (9.6 percent), abdominal pain (4 percent) and chest pain (3.1 percent) made up the other primary medical conditions.

This data will be presented this week at the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine annual conference in Chicago.