Study objective: To determine the frequency of positive alcohol readings in adolescent patients presenting for treatment of injury.
Design: Patients aged 10 through 21 years were prospectively enrolled in this descriptive study. Demographic data and information about the injury were collected at enrollment. Blood ethanol concentration was measured with a saliva alcohol assay with a lower detection limit of 10 mg/dL (2 mmol/L).
Setting: Enrollment was conducted at four emergency departments, an urban trauma center, an urban children's trauma center, a suburban hospital, and a rural hospital. Enrollment at each facility was conducted during two 24-hour periods for every day of the week (14 days total). Consecutive sampling was used during each enrollment period.
Results: We enrolled 295 patients (92% of eligible subjects). Sixty-three percent were male; 74% were white, 19% black, 3% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 3% from other racial groups. The mean age was 15.6 +/- 3.2 years. Fifteen patients (5%) tested positive for ethanol (range, 10 to 120 mg/dL [2 to 24 mmol/L]). Only four of these patients underwent ethanol testing as part of their medical evaluations. Of the 125 subjects aged 17 through 21 years, 14 (11.2%) tested positive for ethanol. Hospital distribution was (number of patients with positive ethanol test results): urban trauma center, 8 of 52; urban children's trauma center, 0 of 91; suburban hospital, 4 of 111; rural hospital, 3 of 41. The highest percentage of positive ethanol test results was found at the urban trauma center, where 15% of total subjects and 22% of subjects aged 17 through 21 tested positive. Injuries related to assaults and motor vehicle crashes were particularly associated with alcohol use.
Conclusion: Alcohol is associated with injuries in urban, suburban, and rural settings in the older pediatric population. Alcohol use is underrecognized and should be considered in patients presenting with injuries, especially victims of assaults or motor vehicle crashes.