Visits to emergency rooms arising from nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs rose 21 percent between 2004 and 2005, according to a new report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The 2005 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report found that ER visits for nonmedical use rose sharply even though overall drug-related emergency-room visits were stable.
ER visits arising from nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals rose from 495,732 in 2004 to 598,452 in 2005, the report said. By comparison, cocaine-related visits totaled 448,481, which lead all illicit drugs. (DAWN does not comprehensively track alcohol-related ER visits.)
The typical ER visit arose from use of multiple drugs, according to the DAWN report. Visits involving methadone rose 29 percent, followed by prescription pain relievers (up 24 percent) and anti-anxiety medications (up 19 percent).
The DAWN study showed that 31 percent of drug-related ER visits involved illicit drugs only, while 27 percent involved pharmaceuticals only. The report found 1.4 million drug-related ER visits in 2005, out of a total of 108 million ER visits to U.S. hospitals.
SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D., said that ER visits provide an opportunity to intervene with drug users and refer them to counseling or other help.
"We are in danger of becoming a nation of pill poppers," added drug czar John Walters, who said the "increase in the abuse of prescription drugs has been fueled worldwide by misperceptions of the potential harms of these powerful drugs, making it more critical than ever that we raise public awareness about the dangers of their misuse."