Emergency Department Visits and Trends Related to Cocaine, Psychostimulants, and Opioids in the United States, 2008–2018

"Psychostimulant-related ED visits increased from 2.2 to 12.9 visits per 10,000 population from 2008 to 2018. This is consistent with studies showing increasing national rates of ED visits, hospitalizations, and deaths from psychostimulant overdose [2, 4, 5, 33]. The increasing use of the ED and other acute care settings is likely linked to rising methamphetamine availability and use [34]. National Forensic Laboratory Information System data found methamphetamine case submissions increased from 2011 to 2019, with methamphetamine as the most frequently reported drug [35]. While psychostimulant-related ED visits were predominantly among Western regions in our study, recent data highlights the emergence of psychostimulant-related overdose deaths in the Midwest and Northeast, suggesting methamphetamine is already a nationwide concern [8, 36]. Increases in cocaine-related ED visits were not significant, potentially due to the exclusion of visits related to opioid and cocaine co-use. Polysubstance use is common in among individuals using cocaine [30], and other studies found rates of fatal overdoses and ED visits for overdose involving cocaine and opioid use are rising [5, 33].

"We found stimulant-related ED visits were less likely to be identified as drug toxicity/withdrawal concerns, underscoring the differences in presentations between stimulant- and opioid-related visits. While the national surge in ED visits and deaths related to opioid overdose is linked to the rise in fentanyl in the drug supply [1, 33, 37], the main drivers of stimulant-related ED visits and overdoses are unclear. Possibilities include increased potency of fluctuating drug supplies [35], contamination or co-use with synthetic opioids like fentanyl [38], or the cumulative effects of chronic stimulant use over time [39]. Further, the term “overdose”, when applied to opioids commonly refers to an acute respiratory event from an episode of use, and this term is problematic when applied to stimulants, as it lacks specificity in capturing the diverse ways in which stimulant toxicity can present [16, 40]. Our data suggest that acute emergency presentations related to stimulant use are more likely due to the cumulative effect of stimulant use over time rather than from a single episode of use. Addressing acute stimulant toxicity may rely more on clinical management of various symptoms, rather than the development of a single reversal agent like naloxone for opioid overdose."


Suen, L.W., Davy-Mendez, T., LeSaint, K.T. et al. Emergency department visits and trends related to cocaine, psychostimulants, and opioids in the United States, 2008–2018. BMC Emerg Med 22, 19 (2022). doi.org/10.1186/s12873-022-00573-0.