Drug, alcohol abuse study measures the high cost of under-treated addiction

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

DRUG AND alcohol abuse sets people on a path toward heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses. A study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment reports that hospital costs for this medical fallout can be substantial -- and could be avoided with more drug and alcohol treatment.

Lead author Patricia Santora of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and colleagues found that 14% of people admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1994 to 2002 were alcohol or drug abusers. Of these more than 43,000 patients, the researchers found, about half abused two or more drugs, resulting in hospital costs in 2002 of $28 million. An additional 25% abused alcohol only, incurring $20 million in hospital costs in 2002. (Treatment costs rose in each year of the study period.) "Virtually all . . . were admitted for the medical and psychiatric consequences of their abuse," Santora says.

Patients with drug problems were more likely to be on Medicaid or Medicare; alcoholic patients were more likely to have private insurance. Researchers noted that both types of insurers spend very little on addiction treatment to prevent medical consequences of abuse -- less than 1% of private insurance claims and less than 2% of Medicaid claims. "This is one university hospital," Santora says, "but you know it's being repeated at thousands of hospitals across the country."


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