Substance Abusers Less Likely to Receive Some Preventive Health Services

A new study has found that substance abuse increases the risk of not receiving all appropriate preventive health services, such as mammography screenings and influenza vaccinations. Researchers from Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine published their findings in BMJ Open.

Although cancer and influenza are among the leading causes of death in the United States, many people do not receive important preventive services, especially low-income patients, racial and ethnic minorities, uninsured individuals, and those who were born in foreign countries. Even with interventions targeting these groups, preventive services continue to be underused, which has led some to believe that high-risk groups may account for gaps in the receiving of these services.

Lead author Karen Lasser, MD, MPH, a primary care physician at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, said that people who abuse substances such as alcohol and drugs represent on such high-risk group.

The researchers examined data from 4,804 women eligible for mammograms, 4,414 women eligible for Pap smears, 7,008 people eligible for colorectal cancer screenings, and 7,017 people eligible for influenza vaccinations. All patients were screened for substance abuse.

Among the nearly 10,000 patients, 10 percent were found positive for substance abuse. Compared to women without unhealthy substance use, women who abused substances received mammograms less frequently (83.8 percent vs. 75.4 percent) but received Pap smears at about the same rate (78.1 percent vs. 77.9 percent). People with unhealthy substance use received influenza vaccinations less frequently (50.4 percent vs. 44.7 percent), but received CRC screenings at about the same rate (63.4 percent vs. 61.7 percent).

Dr. Lasser said that they believe the people with unhealthy substance use in these analyses may be receiving substantially fewer preventive services.

The researchers said that future interventions to promote mammography screening could target women with unhealthy substance use, and those to promote influenza vaccinations could target both women and men with unhealthy substance use. Dr. Lasser added that clinical interventions could embed mammography screening and influenza vaccinations in other services used by individuals with substance abuse problems, and training interventions could help health care personnel who screen for substance use to include referrals for preventive health services.

Source: Science Daily, Unhealthy substance use a risk factor for not receiving some preventive health services, study finds, May 13, 2011

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