Introduction: The incidence of binge drinking is increasing in Canadian youth. Its impact on emergency department resource utilization is unknown. This study characterizes the demographics, clinical features and management of youth who present to the pediatric emergency department (PED) with alcohol ingestion.
Methods: A retrospective study in an academic, urban, tertiary care PED with an annual census of 38 000 visits was conducted. We reviewed the emergency records of all patients aged 10–17 presenting to the PED between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2006. Youth with a documented history of alcohol ingestion and/or a positive blood alcohol level were included. Demographics, clinical presentation, management and disposition were collected using a standardized data collection form.
Results: A total of 8290 visits were made by youth aged 10 to 17 years. There were 119 visits (1.4%) by 100 youth for alcohol ingestion. The average patient age was 14.8 years (SD 1.1 yr). The majority was female (58%). Most patients arrived by ambulance (79%). The average GCS on arrival was 12.6 (range 5–15). Ten (9%) patients had a GCS of less than 8. The average blood alcohol level was 46.4 mmol/L. Twenty-one (19%) patients had body temperatures less than 35°C. No patients were hypoglycemic. Injuries were reported in 47 visits (40%). One patient required intubation and 3 required ICU admission. Health care personnel were assaulted during 7 visits. Most patients were discharged directly from the PED (94%). The average length of stay was 7.2 hours.
Conclusion: Although binge drinking may be considered a common adolescent risk taking behaviour, it is associated with high prehospital and emergency department resource utilization. There is a need to develop protocols to standardize management of this population and ensure health care provider safety.