NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Emergency Rooms Seldom Test for Alcohol, Drugs

March 3, 2003

Most of the nation's emergency rooms or trauma centers don't routinely run blood alcohol tests or "toxic screens" on patients thought to be intoxicated. With alcohol and drugs playing such a significant role in fatal and incapacitating accidents, why this failure to perform the tests?

  • In the first place, the first priority of trauma centers is to save lives and provide immediate care.
  • But another major reason is an obscure, decades-old law adopted by 38 states and the District of Columbia that give insurers the option to deny medical reimbursement to patients under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • In short, hospital officials fear their institutions won't get paid if test results appear in claims records.

But some physicians have begun to crusade to repeal the laws and make drug and alcohol tests and counseling a routine part of trauma care.

So far, Maryland, North Carolina and Vermont have repealed their laws, but repeal efforts have failed in legislatures in New York, Washington and Arizona.

Source: Rachael Zimmerman, "Why Emergency Rooms Rarely Test Trauma Patients for Alcohol, Drugs," Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB1046213237955719943-search,00.html


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