One ACEP member had a patient who refused an ambulance after a car crash, but decided later to drive himself to a free clinic for neck pain. Unfamiliar with car crashes, the clinic ordered a series of tests and exams, only to have the man end up back in the emergency room with pain all over again.
"I am personally seeing an increase in the number of people who are taking other people's medications," said Dr. Richard O'Brien, spokesman for American College of Emergency Physicians and a doctor at the Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, Penn.
Whether it's a family member's old pain pills or someone's leftover antibiotics, O'Brien has seen an increase in the number of people who are willing to risk problems instead of seeing their doctors.
"The antibiotics thing I see all the time," he said.
In the case of antibiotics, O'Brien said leftovers from a full course rarely suffice. "It's almost never enough to treat a legitimate infection," he said.
Moreover, antibiotics actually have side effects patients may not know about. O'Brien said patients could be allergic, or have interactions with blood clotting medication, or have interactions with birth control pills and end up with an unwanted pregnancy.
In many cases, ACEP doctors said that improvised medical care is a delay tactic until a person can save up enough money for a doctor's visit.
"I hear more and more people buying drugs on the street and not just for the people who are addicted," said Ellen Hadaway, a clinical social worker at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Hadaway said often teetotaling, middle-aged people can find black market oxycontin with a few phone calls.
Although expensive, the cost nowhere nears the bill from an emergency room visit to diagnose the pain.
"They'll do that to try and stop the pain that they're going through rather than try and access a public clinic or anything that would be available for them," she said.
Aside from the pain pills, Hadaway has seen more people who've waited days after an injury or a problem before finally seeking treatment. After such a wait, Hadaway said some people leave the hospital before doctor's orders to avoid additional health costs.
"I see 5-10 people who are here uninsured every day," said Hadaway. "But more of them now are the folks who have been doing their level best now for years."
"Unfortunately every day I have to tell people that I don't have anything to offer to help them," she said.