Chronic illicit drug use, health services utilization and the cost of medical care

Soc Sci Med. 2000 Jun;50(12):1703-13. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00411-6.


Few studies have examined the relationships between drug use, health services utilization and the cost of medical care for a community-based sample of drug users. The purpose of this study was to analyze recently collected data on chronic drug users (CDUs), CDUs who were also injecting drug users (IDUs) and non-drug users (NDUs) to determine whether these groups exhibited differences in health services utilization and cost. In addition to descriptive analyses, these relationships were estimated with multivariate regression models. Data were collected in 1996 and 1997 through a standardized self-reported questionnaire administered to individuals who were recruited through community outreach activities in the USA. Annual differences in health services utilization between CDUs, IDUs and NDUs were estimated for three measures: number of times admitted to a hospital, number of outpatient visits and number of emergency room episodes. Results of this study indicate that CDUs and IDUs consumed significantly more inpatient and emergency care, but less outpatient services relative to NDUs. Analyses of total health care costs showed that CDUs and IDUs each generated about $1000 in excess services utilization per individual relative to NDUs. This research is the first study to compare differences in health services utilization and cost among out-of-treatment drug users relative to a matched group of non-users in a community-based setting. The findings suggest that health care providers and managed care organizations should consider policies that promote more ambulatory care and discourage emergency room and inpatient care among drug users. Innovative and culturally acceptable approaches may be necessary to provide incentives without posing unusual financial hardship.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Health Services / economics
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Male
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Class
  • Substance-Related Disorders*


  • Illicit Drugs