Health-related material needs and substance use among emergency department patients

Evan Gerber, Lillian Gelberg, John Rotrosen, Donna Castelblanco, Tod Mijanovich, Kelly M. Doran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Emergency department (ED) visits related to substance use are common. ED patients also have high levels of health-related material needs (HRMNs), such as homelessness and food insecurity. However, little research has examined the intersection between ED patient HRMNs and substance use. Methods: We surveyed a random sample of public hospital ED patients. Surveys included validated single-item screeners for unhealthy alcohol and any drug use and questions on self-reported past-year material needs. We compared individual HRMNs and cumulative number of HRMNs by substance use screening status using bivariate and multivariable analyses. Results: A total of 2312 surveys were completed. Nearly one third of patients (32.3%, n = 747) screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use, and 21.8% (n = 503) screened positive for drug use. Prevalence of HRMNs for all patients—including food insecurity (50.8%), inability to meet essential expenses (40.8%), cost barriers to medical care (24.6%), employment issues (23.8%), and homelessness (21.4%)—was high and was significantly higher for patients with unhealthy alcohol use or drug use. In multivariable analyses, homelessness was independently associated with unhealthy alcohol use (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 1.61, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.24–2.09) and drug use (aOR: 2.30, 95% CI: 1.74–3.05). There was a significant stepwise increase in the odds of patient unhealthy alcohol or drug use as number of HRMNs increased. Conclusions: ED patients with unhealthy alcohol or drug use have higher prevalence of HRMNs than those without. Our findings suggest that HRMNs may act additively and that homelessness is particularly salient. Patients’ comorbid HRMNs may affect the success of ED-based substance use interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-202
Number of pages7
JournalSubstance Abuse
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020


  • Alcohol
  • drug use
  • emergency care
  • food insecurity
  • homelessness
  • social determinants
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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