Doctor Visits for Drug or Alcohol Use Increased 70% Between 2001 and 2009

The number of doctor visits for substance use disorders increased 70 percent among American adults between 2001 and 2009, according to a new study. The increase appears to be driven in large part by prescription drug abuse, the researchers said.

The availability of effective treatment also contributed to the increase, lead researcher Dr. Joseph W. Frank of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told Reuters. Frank estimated that 22.5 million Americans are dependent on alcohol or drugs.

The researchers analyzed data from two national surveys of physician visits, and found the number of visits involving drug or alcohol abuse or addiction rose from 10.6 million between 2001 and 2003, to 18 million between 2007 and 2009. The number of visits involving a diagnosis of opioid abuse rose almost sixfold, from 772,000 to 4.4 million.

“This finding is consistent with trends in substance use disorder-related utilization at the nation’s community health centers and emergency departments and, sadly, use of its morgues,” the researchers wrote in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study found the number of people prescribed medications to treat substance use disorders during doctors’ visits rose from 643,000 to 3.9 million during the study period. Buprenorphine and methadone were the most commonly prescribed medications. Talk therapy was used in about 25 million patients during the same period.

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    Dave Finch

    October 30, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    This news strikes me as a logical consequence of the growing awareness that substance abuse disorder and substance dependence are treatable brain diseases. Unfortunately our misguided prohibition and criminal punishment regime keeps most of these unfortunate people underground and so ignorant of the hope they could have for the future and the treatment options available to them.

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    Ben House

    October 24, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    Agree with Joe. I realize not all variables can be factored, but I suspect important ones are too often overlooked in research or its reporting. I suspect if doctors asked more often as they have been strongly encouraged to do during this period they would report higher numbers as this study reflects.

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    October 24, 2012 at 3:47 AM

    It is nice that more people are going in to see doctors for these kinds of problems. That is a good thing. In clarification; it doesn’t mean there are more addicts or problem users.

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