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Medical and psychiatric conditions of alcohol and drug treatment patients in an HMO: comparison with matched controls

BACKGROUND: Substance abuse and health problems seem to be inextricably related. Yet, prior research on the health conditions related to substance abuse is largely focused on alcohol and is from patients treated in publicly funded programs, inpatients, and the general population. METHODS: This study compares the prevalence of medical and psychiatric conditions among 747 substance abuse patients and 3690 demographically matched controls from the same health maintenance organization, and examines whether any heightened prevalence for substance abuse patients (relative to controls) varies according to demographic subgroups and type of substance. RESULTS: Approximately one third of the conditions examined were more common among substance abuse patients than among matched controls, and many of these conditions were among the most costly. We also found that pain-related diagnoses, including arthritis, headache, and lower back pain, were more prevalent among such patients, particularly those dependent on narcotic analgesics. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings point to the importance of examining comorbid medical conditions and substance abuse in both primary and specialty care. Our findings regarding pain-related diagnoses among patients dependent on narcotic analgesics highlight the need for linkages between primary care and substance abuse treatment. Moreover, optimal treatment of many common medical disorders may require identification, intervention, and treatment of an underlying substance abuse disorder.

Authors: Mertens JR; Lu YW; Parthasarathy S; Moore C; Weisner CM

Arch Intern Med. 2003 Nov 10;163(20):2511-7.

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