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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Alcohol Issues In The ER

Every day I see several intoxicated people in the emergency room. Many of them drive themselves to the ER and ask for help. Some come in handcuffed and angry. Some are dropped off by family members who have had enough. Some are on probation or on parole and if they get caught drinking or using drugs, it would be a violation of their probation.

And what do I do with these people? I help them. I protect their privacy. I feed them and house them in the ER. I give them medications. I make sure they are comfortable and cared for. Alcohol withdrawal is life-threatening. It's a medical issue that most times warrants an inpatient admission.

25% of all emergency room admissions, 33% of all suicides, and more than 50% of all homicides and incidents of domestic violence are alcohol-related.  According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, there are 105,000 annual alcohol-related deaths due to drunk drivers and related injuries or diseases.

Somehow I feel that I am contributing to those statistics. You know why? Because I am ethically bound to protect my patients privacy. I can not call probation officers, I can not call the police and report that someone was driving under the influence. Some patients really want help. But some come to hide in the ER because they know we can't rat them out. And your tax dollars pay for us to harbor criminals in the ER.

It's a dirty little secret. I look through the newspapers all the time to see if a person I had in the ER has driven drunk and hurt people, or beat their spouses in a drunken rage.  Am I responsible in some way? 

My hospital legal team would say I'm not. But my heart and soul says maybe I am.

Maybe alcohol should be illegal like other drugs. It's certainly equally as lethal as heroine, cocaine, and meth. And it costs the health care system and the tax payers a great deal.  Not to mention the heart ache, physical suffering, and death that inevitably comes.

 O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by,  let us call thee devil.  William Shakespeare: