PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Anesthesiology and Pain Management - Biochemistry - Critical Care and Emergency Medicine - Physiology - Public Health and Epidemiology

Trauma Activation Patients: Evidence for Routine Alcohol and Illicit Drug Screening
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Author: C. Michael Dunham et al.

by C. Michael Dunham, Thomas J. Chirichella


Statistics from the National Trauma Data Bank imply that discretionary blood alcohol and urine drug testing is common. However, there is little evidence to determine which patients are appropriate for routine testing, based on information available at trauma center arrival. In 2002, Langdorf reported alcohol and illicit drug rates in Trauma Activation Patients.

Methodology/Principal Findings

This is a retrospective investigation of alcohol and illicit drug rates in consecutive St. Elizabeth Health Center (SEHC) trauma patients. SEHC Trauma Activation Patients are compared with the Langdorf Activation Patients and with the SEHC Trauma Nonactivation Patients. Minimum Rates are positive tests divided by total patients (tested and not tested). Activation patients: The minimum alcohol rates were: SEHC 23.1%, Langdorf 28.2%, combined 24.8%. The minimum illicit drug rates were: SEHC 15.7%, Langdorf 23.5, combined 18.3%. The minimum alcohol and/or illicit drug rates were: SEHC 33.4%, Langdorf 41.8%, combined 36.2%. Nonactivation patients: The SEHC minimum alcohol rate was 4.7% and the minimum illicit drug rate was 6.0%.


Alcohol and illicit drug rates were significantly greater for Trauma Activation Patients, when compared to Nonactivation Patients. At minimum, Trauma Activation Patients are likely to have a 1-in-3 positive test for alcohol and/or an illicit drug. This substantial rate suggests that Trauma Activation Patients, a readily discernible group at trauma center arrival, are appropriate for routine alcohol and illicit drug testing. However, discretionary testing is more reasonable for Trauma Nonactivation Patients, because minimum rates are low.