Amphetamine-related presentations to an inner-city tertiary emergency department: a prospective evaluation

Suzanne D Gray, Daniel M Fatovich, David L McCoubrie, Frank F Daly
Medical Journal of Australia 2007 April 2, 186 (7): 336-9

OBJECTIVE: To describe the prevalence, characteristics and outcomes of amphetamine-related presentations to a tertiary hospital emergency department (ED).

DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: Prospective observational study of amphetamine-related presentations to the ED of the Royal Perth Hospital (RPH), an adult, inner-city, tertiary referral hospital, between 3 August and 2 November 2005. For all patients presenting to the ED, the treating doctors were automatically prompted by the computerised data entry system to consider amphetamine use.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Proportion of ED presentations related to amphetamine use; demographic features and usage practices of amphetamine users; characteristics of presentations and admissions; associated psychiatric illnesses and use of other drugs.

RESULTS: Over the study period, there were 13 125 presentations, of which 156 (1.2%) were judged to be causally related to amphetamine use. Of those 156 patients, over half were habitual drug users (89 [57.1%] used amphetamines at least weekly), and the majority were men (111 [71.2%]). The mean age was 28 years (range, 16-55 years). Presentations were of high acuity: 104 patients [66.7%] were rated 1, 2 or 3 on the Australasian Triage Scale; 50 (32.1%) arrived by ambulance; and 25 (16.0%) arrived with police. The mean time spent in the ED was 6 h (range, 0.5-24 h). Fifty patients (32.1%) required sedation, and the likelihood of requiring sedation increased almost threefold if the heart rate was over 100 beats/min on presentation. Sixty-two patients (39.7%) were admitted and 58 (37.2%) required psychiatric evaluation. Repeat attendance was common, with 71 patients (45.5%) having previous amphetamine-related presentations to the RPH ED.

CONCLUSIONS: Amphetamine-related presentations comprise 1.2% of all ED attendances and have a major impact on hospital EDs. Patients are often agitated and aggressive, require extensive resources, and frequently re-attend. The burden of amphetamine-related illnesses on EDs is likely to increase in the future.

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