Substance abusers less likely to receive preventive care

Individuals exhibiting unhealthy substance abuse problems related to alcohol or drugs can be viewed as high-risk "pockets" of the population where preventive services are largely being underused, according to researchers at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine.

While cancer and influenza are some of the leading causes of mortality in the U.S., inroads have been made in preventive measures to lower those rates through vaccinations and screenings. However, various population groups--such as low-income persons, racial and ethnic minorities, the uninsured and the foreign-born--had shown lower rates of using those preventive measures.

Interventions to target those groups have helped, but the preventive services still appeared to be underused, the researchers say in BMJ Open. This led them to look at a possible population pocket where this may be occurring: unhealthy substance abusers--for alcohol, from risky use to dependence; and for drugs, from any illicit drug use, including prescription drugs, to dependence.

The researchers looked at nearly 10,000 patients eligible for one or more of the preventive services of interest. Of those patients, 10 percent screened positive for unhealthy substance use. Compared with all the women surveyed, women with unhealthy substance use received mammograms less frequently (75 percent vs. 83 percent). Persons with unhealthy substance use received flu vaccination less frequently (45 percent vs. 50 percent).

Future efforts could focus on clinical interventions that embed mammography screening and influenza vaccination in other services delivered to individuals with substance use problems, the researchers proposed.

For more details:
- see the BMJ Open abstract
- read the UPI article