Drinking emergency

MEDICAL teams throughout rural Australia are investigating ways to encourage emergency department (ED) patients to cut the amount of alcohol they are drinking.

Studies during 2007 and 2008 showed nearly one in 10 patients had been drinking immediately before their ED visit or the onset of the condition that caused them to go to hospital.

Worse figures were found in interviews with more than 1000 ED patients from five rural communities.

“Thirty-two per cent of these patients were found to be drinking at harmful levels, which exceeds the rate observed in patients of urban EDs,” said Alys Havard from the Alcohol Action in Rural Communities (AARC) project.

“It is also higher than the rate of risky drinking shown by the general population in rural communities, with a postal survey of Grafton residents showing that 18 per cent consume alcohol at harmful levels.

“We know from international studies that problem drinkers experience higher rates of disease and mental health issues, so in addition to these direct effects we expected rural EDs to see a large number of patients for health conditions associated with their usual drinking.”

This overrepresentation of risky drinkers suggests that the ED might be a good setting in which to offer treatment.

Study of internationally published literature showed interventions in an ED setting might reduce the experience of future alcohol-related injuries by almost a half.

“It is clear from this that there is great potential for rural communities to benefit from introducing a program for risky drinkers in their ED,” Ms Havard said.

“The biggest barrier with these interventions, however, is incorporating them into the usual practices of ED staff.

“With limited resources, and competing priorities, it is difficult for ED staff to find the time to check how much their patients are drinking, and offer advice.”

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