Introduction: Drug-seeking behavior (DSB) in the emergency department (ED) is a very common problem, yet there has been little quantitative study to date of such behavior.The goal of this study was to assess the frequency with which drug seeking patients in the ED use classic drug seeking behaviors to obtain prescription medication.
Methods: We performed a retrospective chart review on patients in an ED case management program for DSB. We reviewed all visits by patients in the program that occurred during a 1-year period, and recorded the frequency of the following behaviors: complaining of headache, complaining of back pain, complaining of dental pain, requesting medication by name, requesting a refill of medication, reporting medications as having been lost or stolen, reporting 10/10 pain, reporting greater than 10/10 pain, reporting being out of medication, and requesting medication parenterally. These behaviors were chosen because they are described as “classic” for DSB in the existing literature.
Results: We studied 178 patients from the case management program, who made 2,486 visits in 1 year. The frequency of each behavior was: headache 21.7%, back pain 20.8%, dental pain 1.8%, medication by name 15.2%, requesting refill 7.0%, lost or stolen medication 0.6%, pain 10/10 29.1%, pain greater than 10/10 1.8%, out of medication 9.5%, and requesting parenteral medication 4.3%. Patients averaged 1.1 behaviors per visit.
Conclusion: Drug-seeking patients appear to exhibit “classically” described drug-seeking behaviors with only low to moderate frequency. Reliance on historical features may be inadequate when trying to assess whether or not a patient is drug-seeking. [West J Emerg Med. 2012;13(5):416-421.]