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Open Access Research article

Chronic illness and multimorbidity among problem drug users: a comparative cross sectional pilot study in primary care

Walter Cullen1*, Sarah O'Brien1, Austin O'Carroll2, Fergus D O'Kelly34 and Gerard Bury1

Author Affiliations

1 UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, Coombe Healthcare Centre, Dublin, Ireland

2 Mountjoy Street Family Practice, Dublin, Ireland

3 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Dublin, Ireland

4 Rialto Medical Centre, Dublin, Ireland

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-25

Published: 21 April 2009

Abstract

Background

Although multimorbidity has important implications for patient care in general practice, limited research has examined chronic illness and health service utilisation among problem drug users. This study aimed to determine chronic illness prevalence and health service utilisation among problem drug users attending primary care for methadone treatment, to compare these rates with matched 'controls' and to develop and pilot test a valid study instrument.

Methods

A cross-sectional study of patients attending three large urban general practices in Dublin, Ireland for methadone treatment was conducted, and this sample was compared with a control group matched by practice, age, gender and General Medical Services (GMS) status.

Results

Data were collected on 114 patients. Fifty-seven patients were on methadone treatment, of whom 52(91%) had at least one chronic illness (other then substance use) and 39(68%) were prescribed at least one regular medication. Frequent utilisation of primary care services and secondary care services in the previous six months was observed among patients on methadone treatment and controls, although the former had significantly higher chronic illness prevalence and primary care contact rates. The study instrument facilitated data collection that was feasible and with minimal inter-observer variation.

Conclusion

Multimorbidity is common among problem drug users attending general practice for methadone treatment. Primary care may therefore have an important role in primary and secondary prevention of chronic illnesses among this population. This study offers a feasible study instrument for further work on this issue. (238 words)