A cohort study examining emergency department visits and hospital admissions among people who use drugs in Ottawa, Canada

A cohort study examining emergency department visits and hospital admissions among people who use drugs in Ottawa, Canada


The health of people who use drugs (PWUD) is characterized by multimorbidity and chronicity of health conditions, necessitating an understanding of their health care utilization. The objective of this study was to evaluate emergency department (ED) visits and hospital admissions among a cohort of PWUD.


We used a retrospective observational design between 2012 and 2013. The population was a marginalized cohort of PWUD (the PROUD study) for whom survey data was linked (n = 663) to provincial health administrative data housed at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. We constructed a 5:1 comparison group matched by age, sex, income quintile, and region. The main outcomes were defined as having two or more ED visits, or one or more hospital admissions, in the year prior to survey completion. We used multivariable logistic regression analyses to identify factors associated with these outcomes.


Compared to the matched cohort, PWUD had higher rates of ED visits (rate ratio [RR] 7.0; 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 6.5–7.6) and hospitalization (RR 7.7; 95% CI 5.9–10.0). After adjustment, factors predicting more ED visits were receiving disability (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 3.0; 95% CI 1.7–5.5) or income assistance (AOR 2.7; 95% CI 1.5–5.0), injection drug use (AOR 2.1; 95% CI 1.3–3.4), incarceration within 12 months (AOR 1.6; 95% CI 1.1–2.4), mental health comorbidity (AOR 2.1; 95% CI 1.4–3.1), and a suicide attempt within 12 months (AOR 2.1; 95% CI 1.1–3.4). Receiving methadone (AOR 0.5; 95% CI 0.3–0.9) and having a regular family physician (AOR 0.5; 95% CI 0.2–0.9) were associated with lower odds of having more ED visits. Factors associated with more hospital admissions included Aboriginal identity (AOR 2.4; 95% CI 1.4–4.1), receiving disability (AOR 2.4; 95% CI 1.1–5.4), non-injection drug use (opioids and non-opioids) (AOR 2.2; 95% CI 1.1–4.4), comorbid HIV (AOR 2.4; 95% CI 1.2–5.6), mental health comorbidity (AOR 2.4; 95% CI 1.3–4.2), and unstable housing (AOR 1.9; 95% CI 1.0–3.4); there were no protective factors for hospitalization.


Improved post-incarceration support, housing services, and access to integrated primary care services including opioid replacement therapy may be effective interventions to decrease acute care use among PWUD, including targeted approaches for people receiving social assistance or with mental health concerns.

JOURNAL: Harm Reduction Journal