Objectives: To assess the prevalence of cocaine use, and its impact on severity of presentation, among adults presenting to the emergency department (ED) with asthma. A secondary aim was to assess the use of various asthma treatment modalities, with reference to the 1997 National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) guidelines.
Methods: All adults aged 18 to 55 years who presented to the ED of this institution with an asthma attack, were approached about participating in the study, which required giving informed consent, answering a facilitated questionnaire, and giving a urine sample for drug screening.
Results: Patients were enrolled during a 7-month period. A total of 163 patients were approached to enter the study; 116 patients consented to participate in the study, with 103 submitting complete urine samples. Thirty-seven patients refused to participate, and 10 were excluded. Sixty-eight percent of the patients were women, with a mean age of 33 years. African-Americans made up 89% of the total group. Thirty-five percent were cigarette smokers. Urine cocaine tests were positive in 13 of 103 (13%); 6 of 103 (5.8%) were positive for opiates. In the cocaine-positive group, 5 of 13 patients (38%) were admitted to the hospital, including two patients requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation. Of the total group, 23 of 103 patients (22%) were admitted, and 5 of those 23 admitted patients (22%) were cocaine-positive. Length of stay was significantly longer (5 vs 2.5 days, p < 0.05) in the cocaine-positive admitted patients. Forty-six percent of all patients reported using inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), with 39% of admitted patients using them. Thirty-two percent of all patients had obtained three or more refills of their beta(2)-agonist inhaler in the previous month.
Conclusions: The prevalence of cocaine use may be much higher than the 13% shown in this study, because of patients' refusal to participate in the study. Second, the severity of exacerbation appears to be worse in the cocaine-positive group. Finally, the majority of patients presenting did not use ICS in accordance with the NAEPP guidelines.