ERs fill with intoxicated at year's end

Dec. 26, 2011 at 1:24 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- At the end of the year, U.S. hospital emergency rooms fill due to binge alcohol consumption of adults of all ages, a San Francisco physician says.

Dr. Steven Polevoi, medical director of the emergency department of the University of California, San Francisco, said last New Year's Eve his emergency department experienced a 50 percent jump in the number of visits from the year before. Of that, 70 percent were for alcohol intoxication.

That number of people who have ended up in the emergency room due to alcohol intoxication has steadily risen over the past few years, Polevoi observed.

Typically these patients are so intoxicated that they aren't able to walk or talk and they can lapse into unconsciousness, have trouble breathing and sometimes even die, Polevoi said. Doctors and nurses must monitor them taking time away from non-preventable emergencies.

"There's a lot of morbidity associated with binge drinking and the holidays are an excuse for people to drink too much," Polevoi said in a statement.

The end-of-year influx of intoxicated patients can stretch resources at a typical emergency room, because there is no antidote to alcohol intoxication, Polevoi said.

"We must wait until their blood alcohol level decreases and that's a slow process," Polevoi said. "Basically we are left with lots of patients in semi-conscious states. They often spend six or eight hours with us until they're sufficiently sober to go home."

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