Migration Patterns from an Open Illicit Drug Scene and Emergency Department Visits among People Who Use Illicit Drugs in Vancouver, Canada

Subst Use Misuse. 2021;56(12):1837-1845. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2021.1958849. Epub 2021 Aug 11.


Background: People who use illicit drugs (PWUD) experience various adverse health outcomes leading to increased healthcare service utilization. PWUD are also a highly mobile population which poses challenges to healthcare delivery. The objective of this study was to identify migration patterns from the Downtown Eastside (DTES), an urban illicit drug scene in Vancouver and to estimate the impact of different migration patterns on two outcomes: a) emergency department (ED) visits and b) ED visits resulting in inpatient admission among PWUD.

Methods: Three prospective cohorts of PWUD in Vancouver were linked with regional ED data. We defined the optimal number of trajectory groups that best represented distinct patterns of migration from Vancouver's DTES using a latent class growth analysis. Then, generalized estimating equations were used to estimate the effect of migration patterns on the two ED outcomes.

Results: Four distinct migration trajectory patterns were identified among the 1210 included participants: PWUD who consistently lived in the DTES, those who migrated out of DTES early, those who migrated out of DTES late, and those who frequently revisited the DTES. Participants who frequently revisited the DTES had higher odds of an ED visit (adjusted odds ratio = 1.62; 95% confidence interval: 1.28-2.06). There was no significant association between migration patterns and inpatient admission.

Conclusions: We found that PWUD who frequently revisited the DTES were more likely to have utilized the ED, suggesting that there may be a subgroup of PWUD who are at increased risk of experiencing negative health outcomes.Supplemental data for this article is available online at 10.1080/10826084.2021.1958849.

Keywords: Emergency department; migration patterns; open illicit drug scene; people who use illicit drugs.