In 2005 there were 108 million visits to emergency departments (EDs) in
U.S. hospitals, and an estimated 1.5 million of these visits were associated
with drug misuse or abuse, according to U.S. government data.
Drug Abuse Warning Net works (DAWN) researchers gathered data from 355
emergency rooms across the United States by reviewing medical records related
to recent drug use. To be included in the analysis, drugs needed only to be
implicated in the visit; they did not have to be the cause of the visit.
All data were estimated using weighted calculations based on actual visits
to emergency departments.
Emergency department visits linked to the nonmedical use of medications
increased more than 20 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to the
government's DAWN report, "National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency
Department Visits," issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration in March.
According to the data, 598,542 emergency department visits involved
nonmedical use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs or dietary
Opiates and opioid analgesics accounted for 33 percent of the visits linked
to nonmedical use of medications and included hydrocodone/combinations (51,225
visits), oxycodone/combinations (42,810 visits), methadone (41,216 visits),
and fentanyl/combinations (9,160 visits).
Antianxiety agents, including benzodiazepines, accounted for 34 percent of
these visits (172,388 visits).
When government researchers examined trends among drug-related emergency
visits from 2004 to 2005, they found that reports involving benzodiazepine use
increased by 19 percent, those involving opiates increased by 24 percent, and
methadone-related visits increased by 29 percent.
Over half (56 percent) of all drug misuse or drug abuse emergency
department visits involved an illegal drug either alone or in combination with
another drug type—cocaine was involved in 448,481 visits, marijuana in
242,200 visits, heroin in 164,572 visits, and stimulants (including
amphetamines and methamphetamines) in 138,950 visits.
In 2005, 816,696 emergency visits involved use of an illicit drug, either
alone or with another type of drug.
The DAWN data also showed that 492,654 emergency visits involved the use of
alcohol, of which 98,430 involved alcohol only for patients under age 21, and
394,224 visits involved both alcohol and drugs for patients of all ages.
When researchers looked at data for drug-related suicide attempts, they
found that there were 132,582 emergency room visits for such attempts in 2005,
and in nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of them multiple drugs had been
The report's authors noted that all suicide attempts involving drug use
were captured by the data, even when patients used weapons, for example, in
More than half of the visits for drug-related suicide attempts involved
psychotherapeutic agents, with the most common types being benzodiazepines and
antidepressants. About 45 percent of the suicide attempts involved central
nervous system agents such as prescription and over-the-counter analgesic
"Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2005: National Estimates of
Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits" is posted at<oas.samhsa.gov/DAWN/2k5ed.cfm>.▪