The management of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use problems by general practitioners in Australia

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Journal Article
Drug and Alcohol Review, 2005, 24 (6), pp. 499 - 506
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The aim of this study was to document the frequency of the management of illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco problems in general practice in Australia. Data from the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) study of general practice, April 1998 to March 2003, were analysed. BEACH is an ongoing national study of general practice in Australia. Each year a random sample of approximately 1000 general practitioners (GPs) participate, each providing details of 100 patient encounters. Samples are drawn from the Medicare data held by the Health Insurance Commission. Patient demographic breakdowns, medication, other treatment, referrals and other medical procedures ordered were examined for all problems labelled by GPs as illicit, alcohol and tobacco problems. Annually in Australia, it was estimated that 615 000 GP encounters - or 0.6% of all encounters - involved the management of illicit drug use problems presumably most commonly for problematic heroin use. Despite a much higher population prevalence of use and use disorders, the management of alcohol or tobacco use problems was less common, with 0.4% and 0.3% of encounters, respectively, comprising treatment of these problems. Clear demographic differences existed across the groups. The management of problems also differed, with illicit drug use problems more likely to involve provision of medication, and alcohol and tobacco treatment more likely to involve counselling and/or health advice. Despite higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use problems among patients seeing GPs in Australia, the rate of treatment for such problems was relatively lower than it was for illicit drug use problems. More efforts need to be directed towards assisting GPs to identify and target problematic alcohol and tobacco use among their patients.
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