Health Highlights: May 28, 2009

In 2005, $468 billion was spent to deal with smoking and drug and alcohol abuse in the United States -- an amount that represents more than 10 percent of combined federal, state and local spending for all purposes, says a study released Thursday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Most of that spending was for direct health care costs for conditions caused by smoking and drug and alcohol abuse, or for law enforcement. Just over 2 percent of the $468 billion was spent on prevention, treatment and addiction research, The New York Times reported.

The lack of spending on prevention is a "stunning misallocation of resources," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman of the Columbia University-based center. "It's a commentary on the stigma attached to addictions and the failure of governments to make investments in the short run that would pay enormous dividends to taxpayers over time."

The group said efforts focused on prevention of addictions and substance abuse reduce related medical and criminal costs, as well as expensive social problems such as homelessness, domestic violence and child abuse, The Times reported.

Califano and colleagues called for federal legislation to require health insurers to provide broader coverage of substance abuse treatment.

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Poorer Hospitalized More Often for Preventable Conditions: Report

In 2006, hospital admissions for asthma and diabetes were 87 percent and 77 percent higher, respectively, for the poorest Americans than for wealthier people, according to a federal government report.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said that, compared to people from wealthier communities, those from the poorest areas had higher hospitalization rates for other potentially preventable conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (69 percent), congestive heart failure (51 percent), skin infections (49 percent), and dehydration (38 percent).

Patients from the poorest communities were also more likely to be hospitalized for severe blood infections, stroke and depression, said the AHRQ's latest News and Numbers.

The report also said hospitalized patients from the poorest areas were 80 percent more likely to receive hemodialysis for kidney failure, and were more likely to undergo procedures often done on an outpatient basis, such as eye and ear procedures (81 percent more likely).

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