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Date: Tuesday, Dec. 30, 1997
Contact: SAMHSA Press Office (301)443-8956

Drug-Related Emergency Room Cases Decline Nationally

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today released data showing an overall 6 percent decline nationally in drug related emergency room cases from 1995 to 1996 (from 517,800 to 487,600). The number of cases had steadily increased from 1990 through 1994 and remained level in 1995.

"These results are another hopeful sign of progress in our efforts against drugs. But they also signal that our work to prevent substance abuse and treat addiction is far from finished," said Secretary Shalala.

The data from DAWN -- the Drug Abuse Warning Network -- showed cocaine-related episodes, after increasing 78 percent between 1990 and 1994, remained level between 1994 and 1996; heroin-related episodes, after increasing 113 percent between 1990 and 1995, did not change between 1995 and 1996; methamphetamine (speed) related episodes, after an increase of 237 percent between 1990 and 1994, decreased by 39 percent between 1994 and 1996; and, while marijuana/hashish-related episodes were statistically unchanged between 1995 and 1996, the trend since 1990 indicates that increases continue however the rate of increase may be slowing.

"The continued incidence of marijuana related emergency room visits provides a loud and clear message that marijuana is a powerful drug with potentially serious consequences," Secretary Shalala added. "Overall, this report shows the high cost of drug abuse for our nation's emergency departments, and for society as a whole. Drug abuse has real and severe consequences: for the abusers themselves, for their families, for the health care system, and for taxpayers. Young people in particular need to know that drug abuse is wrong, dangerous, and often fatal."

White House National Drug Policy Director Barry McCaffrey stated, "The DAWN decreases, though slight, give additional credence to other recent surveys indicating that the upward slope of drug abuse has indeed begun to be arrested. The numbers are an incentive to turn these slight decreases into substantial long-term reductions. The reasons for this apparent turnaround involve everyone in America -- parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and community coalitions. The media also plays a large role. The recent increase in coverage by the media has helped draw the attention of America to the tragedy of drug abuse. Everyone has been a part of effectively spreading the message that drug abuse is devastating to the user and the nation. The slight success we are seeing encourages us to continue our hard work."

DAWN also provides emergency department estimates from 21 metropolitan areas. Between 1994 and 1996, statistically significant decreases were seen in 5 cities: Boston (20 percent - from 15,200 to 12,100), Denver (28 percent - 5,000 to 3,600), New York (18 percent - 43,100 to 35,400), San Francisco (12 percent - 11,800 to 10,400), and Washington, D.C. (20 percent - 14,200 to 11,300). Statistically significant increases were identified in 2 cities: New Orleans (19 percent - from 4,700 to 5,800) and Newark (7 percent - from 9,400 to 10,100). The number of emergency room episodes in 1996 remained statistically unchanged from 1994 in the other 14 cities: Atlanta (9,800), Baltimore (15,400), Buffalo (3,100), Chicago (22,700), Dallas (5,000), Detroit (20,200), Los Angeles (19,200), Miami (6,000), Minneapolis (4,200), Philadelphia (19,700), Phoenix (7,200), St. Louis (6,100), San Diego (5,300), Seattle (8,300).

Dr. Nelba Chavez, Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the HHS agency that conducts the DAWN survey, said, "DAWN provides insight into the regional nature and changing patterns of substance abuse in the U.S. We are using these data and other data sources to guide the development of prevention and treatment programs that are responsive to emerging trends. We know from our work at HHS that drug treatment programs are effective in rescuing lives and restoring hope. The DAWN data continues to point out the need to intervene early, to help people get treatment in a more effective and less expensive setting than an emergency room."

For example, SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment recently awarded new grants to study treatment of marijuana dependent youth, and additional money to allow existing grantees to expand treatment services to address methamphetamine and its effects on pregnancy and child development.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) is an ongoing national survey of hospital emergency departments. The new report "Year-End Preliminary Estimates from the 1996 Drug Abuse Warning Network" contains annual estimates of drug-related emergency department episodes for 1989 through 1996 and semi-annual estimates for 1991 through 1996. Since the early 1970's, DAWN has collected information on patients seeking hospital emergency department treatment related to their use of an illegal drug or the non-medical use of a legal drug. DAWN does not measure the prevalence of drug use, but rather the health consequences of drug use in a representative sample of U.S. hospitals. Data are collected by trained reporters (nurses and other hospital personnel) who review medical charts for indications--noted by hospital staff who treated the patients--that drug use was the reason for the emergency department visit.



Cocaine Heroin Marijuana/Hashish Methamphetamine Motive/Reason Selected Metropolitan Areas SAMHSA, a public health agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the federal government's lead agency for improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addition treatment and mental health services. Additional information about SAMHSA is available on the World Wide Web at: www.samhsa.gov.
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