Substance Abusers Less Likely to Use Preventive Health ServicesA new research study finds that people who use unhealthy substances are less likely to perform appropriate preventive health services.

As an example, people who abuse alcohol, take illicit drugs, or misuse prescription medications are less likely to have timely mammography screening and influenza vaccinations.

Despite the knowledge that mammography screening can detect breast cancer in early, treatable stages and that influenza is generally preventable by a vaccination, many eligible U.S. adults do not take advantage of them.

Unfortunately, failure to participate in the health promotion behaviors often occurs in low-income persons, racial and ethnic minorities, the uninsured and the foreign-born.

Researchers believe a new strategy is to target these high-risk “pockets” for intervention.

“Persons with unhealthy substance use (for alcohol, the spectrum that ranges from risky use to dependence; for drugs, the spectrum from any illicit drug use, including prescription drugs to dependence), represent one such “pocket,” said lead author Karen Lasser, M.D., M.P.H.

Researchers analyzed data from women eligible for mammograms, Papanicolou (Pap) smears, colorectal cancer (CRC) screenings, and influenza vaccinations. All patients were screened for unhealthy substance use.

Among the nearly 10,000 patients eligible for one or more of the preventive services of interest, 10 percent screened positive for unhealthy substance use.

“We speculate that persons with unhealthy substance use who are not engaged in primary care at the high thresholds used in these analyses may have substantially lower receipt of preventive services,” said Lasser.

According to the researchers, future interventions to promote mammography screening might target women with unhealthy substance use, and those to promote influenza vaccination might target both men and women with unhealthy substance use.

“Clinical interventions could embed mammography screening and influenza vaccination in other services delivered to individuals with substance use problems.

“In addition, training interventions could enhance skills and systems for health care personnel who screen for substance use disorders to include referrals for preventive health services,” she added.

The findings are found in the journal BMJ Open.

Source: Boston University Medical Center