Hospitalizations for substance use disorders increased following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and geographic patterns of hospitalizations shifted from flood-exposed areas to less exposed areas in the city center.
“Exposure to a disaster can entail physical threats to life and postdisaster behavior and readjustment problems (eg, dealing with loss of home, friends, or family). These events can increase the risk of substance abuse, such as extensive drinking or drug use, as a coping mechanism,” Imelda K. Moise, PhD, MPH, of the University of Miami, and Marilyn O. Ruiz, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote. “The risk for substance abuse in the aftermath of disasters is likely to vary among residential areas. Also, the extent to which area-level risk factors for substance abuse is associated with postdisaster substance abuse is likely to vary across residential contexts.”
To compare spatial patterns in the distribution of hospitalizations for substance abuse disorders and associated area-level predictors before and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, researchers analyzed hospital data from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for 2004 and 2008.
The hospitalization rate for substance use disorders increased from 7.13 per 1,000 population in 2004 to 9.65 per 1,000 population in 2008.
The concentration of hospitalizations shifted geographically from block groups exposed to floods in 2004 to the center of the city in 2008.
Presence of blighted properties, nonwhite populations, and presence of displaced residents predicted hospitalizations post-Katrina.
Distance from flooded areas and levee breaches was negatively associated with hospitalizations, according to researchers.
Men were more likely to be hospitalized in 2004 (78%) and 2008 (63%).
The percentage of hospitalized whites increased from 28.8% in 2004 to 44.9% in 2008 (P < .001).
“We found that the rate of hospitalizations for substance abuse disorders increased in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This result is not surprising given that a large segment of the local population experienced trauma, which had the potential to increase hospitalization rates at the same time that the city’s population was reduced. These two factors accounted for the high hospitalization rates in areas that lost population,” the researchers wrote. “This displacement resulted in local population shifts and was a major contributing factor to this finding and underscores the effect of population shifts on statistical calculations after disasters.” – by Amanda Oldt
Disclosure: Please see the study for a full list of relevant financial disclosures.