Strategy for increasing detection rates of drug and alcohol abuse in paediatric emergency departments

Acta Paediatr. 2009 Oct;98(10):1637-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2009.01392.x. Epub 2009 Jun 23.


Aim: To determine whether implementation of criteria for performing a toxicology screen and increasing staff awareness improve detection of substance abuse among adolescents presenting to the emergency department.

Methods: Patients 12 to 18 years of age presenting to one of three emergency departments in Israel were included in a prospective cohort study. In the 'study' hospital, a set of criteria for urine toxicology screen and measurements of ethanol serum level were implemented. No specific interventions were implemented in the two other hospitals. The main outcome measure was the rate of substance abuse detection.

Results: The number of adolescents seen in the participating centres was 3200 at the study hospital, and 3493 and 2792 at the two other hospitals. High blood ethanol concentrations were found in 49 patients at the study hospital compared with 30 and 19 patients at the two other hospitals (p < 0.001). Illicit drugs were detected in 13, 4 and 1 patients, respectively (p = 0.002).

Conclusions: Introducing structured guidelines for ordering toxicological screening increases the detection of alcohol and drug of abuse among adolescents presenting to paediatric emergency departments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / toxicity
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Urine / chemistry


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Ethanol