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SAMHSA Press Releases

Date: May 10, 2006
Media Contact: SAMHSA Press
Telephone: 240-276-2130



Data on Drug-related Emergency Room Visits Released by SAMHSA



The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration today unveiled findings from its new Drug Abuse Warning Network showing almost 2 million drug-related emergency department visits in 2004. Of these, nearly 1.3 million emergency department visits were associated with drug misuse or abuse.

The data show that 30 percent of the 1.3 million drug-related emergency room visits involved only illicit drugs; 25 percent involved only prescription or over the counter medications; 8 percent involved alcohol only in patients underage 21; 15 percent involved illicit drugs and alcohol; 8 percent involved both illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals; and 14 percent involved illicit drugs, pharmaceuticals and alcohol, all in the same individual.

The survey is considered a new baseline for future years, and therefore these estimates cannot not be compared to those from prior years. Changes from the old DAWN survey include an expanded definition of emergency department visits related to recent drug use and a new sample of hospitals that covers the entire United States. The findings are contained in a new report, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2004 :National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits.

“Most of the 1.3 million visits to emergency rooms involving drug or alcohol misuse or abuse are an opportunity for the health care system to intervene and direct patients to appropriate follow-up care,” SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie pointed out. “President Bush is proposing an expanded Access to Recovery program so that people who seek treatment will have more choices and be able to obtain treatment that works for them.”

Access to Recovery provides vouchers that let patients choose treatment they believe will work for them.

The 2004 DAWN estimates that cocaine was involved in 383,350 visits to emergency rooms; marijuana was involved in 215,665 visits; heroin was involved in 162,137 visits; stimulants, including amphetamines and methamphetamine, were involved in 102,843; and other illicit drugs such as PCP, Ecstasy, and GHB were involved with much less frequency.

DAWN estimates 495,732 visits to emergency rooms in 2004 related to nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Over half of these visits involved more than one drug (57 percent). Opiates and Opioid analgesics (prescription pain relievers) were the most frequent pharmaceuticals, involved in nearly a third (32 percent) of nonmedical use visits.

Hydrocodone products, involved in 42,491 emergency room visits, oxycodone products, in 36,559 emergency department visits, and methadone in 31,874 visits, were the most frequently used of the prescription pain relievers. DAWN cannot distinguish between methadone in pill form that is prescribed for pain, and methadone in liquid form used for treatment of opiate addiction. Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs) were involved in numbers of visits (144,385) similar to opiates and opioids.

DAWN measures alcohol in combination with illicit drugs for all ages, and alcohol alone in a patient under the age of 21, but not alcohol alone for those of legal drinking age. DAWN estimates 96,809 emergency room visits involving alcohol for patients under age 21. There were 363,641 emergency department visits by persons of all ages involving the use of alcohol in combination with another substance.

DAWN relies on a national sample of acute-care, general, non-federal hospitals operating 24 hour emergency departments. Estimates for 2004 are based on data submitted by 417 hospitals. Medical records were reviewed retrospectively to find the emergency department visits that were related to recent drug use. Across the 417 hospitals, more than 12 million charts were reviewed, which led to the identification of 279,564 drug-related visits. The data from the 417 hospitals were weighted to represent an estimated 1,997,993 DAWN visits nationwide in 2004 out of an estimated pool of 105,978,433 total emergency room visits across the nation.

The full report is available online at



SAMHSA, is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is responsible for improving the accountability, capacity and effectiveness of the nation’s substance abuse prevention, addictions, treatment, and mental health services delivery system.



SAMHSA is An Agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service