Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Emergency Department Data Help Louisiana Prioritize Prevention Efforts

Date Published:Jul 30, 2014

Louisiana’s State Epidemiology Workgroup (SEW) is taking advantage of existing emergency department data to improve substance abuse services across the state. Using a system put in place in 2011, the Louisiana Office of Public Health (OPH) has begun sharing aggregate data with the SEW on substance abuse patterns and trends to determine how events such as natural disasters impact substance abuse and related behavioral health problems. These analyses will have statewide impact, allowing public health agencies to prioritize prevention efforts and target those populations in greatest need.

The Louisiana Early Event Detection System

In 2013, Louisiana’s Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) received a Partnership for Success (PFS) grant from SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention to prevent and reduce alcohol and prescription drug abuse among youth and young adults. OBH enlisted the help of the SEW to track and monitor the PFS prevention priorities. To supplement the statewide survey data traditionally relied on to inform its prevention planning efforts, the SEW decided to also examine data from the Louisiana Early Event Detection System (LEEDS)— a web-based reporting system that collects hospital emergency department and urgent care data about patients’ symptoms and diagnoses at their time of visit. These data allow for the identification of visits related to infectious disease, accidents and injuries, environmental health issues, and substance abuse by OPH.

OPH’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section developed LEEDS following Hurricane Katrina to monitor patterns in infectious disease and injuries, which may occur following natural disasters. The system was designed to help state and local health officials understand where the greatest need for resources would be following an event with a major public health impact—by detecting the early warning signs of disease outbreaks, for example, following a hurricane. This information would enable state public health and safety agencies to intervene quickly to stop the spread of illness in communities.

Using LEEDS to Collect and Analyze Substance Abuse Data

With receipt of the PFS 2013 grant, the SEW decided to use LEEDS’s data to monitor substance abuse in Louisiana. They also plan to track how large-scale events such as Mardi Gras and Superbowl, and disasters such as the Gulf oil spill, affect substance abuse across the state.

Gary Balsamo, assistant state epidemiologist and SEW member, explains, “I have been involved with the SEW since its inception, and we’ve always had an interest in monitoring emergency departments as a way to access substance abuse data. When we began developing LEEDS, we recognized its potential to provide us with valuable information about substance use.”

LEEDS users across the state will soon be able to log on to LEEDS and generate reports on alcohol and drug use. “LEEDS provides us with situational awareness by helping us see what’s going on across the state,” says Jenna Iberg Johnson, public health epidemiologist for OPH. “These data can show, for instance, areas where substance abuse rates are changing. The data can also show if an event like a hurricane or chemical leak impacts substance abuse.”

Understanding the relationship between these events and substance abuse will allow prevention agencies to proactively plan and allocate personnel and resources in preparation for, and immediately following, events with potential public health impact. “We can use the data to help communities understand where to focus substance abuse prevention and treatment services, and especially to designate appropriate staff for emergencies,” says Iberg Johnson.

OPH is using LEEDS as an opportunity to share data with prevention agencies to help them appropriately distribute prevention resources locally and apply for grants. “LEEDS data are very useful for local and state prevention providers,” says Dawn Diez, Louisiana PFS project director and SEW member. “As prevention professionals, we try to get as much information as possible from LEEDS into the community so they can use it at the local level to determine prevention priorities.”

Moving forward, the SEW will continue to think about new ways to use LEEDS data to improve substance abuse service provision. “We are exploring ways to branch out because there are a lot of uses for LEEDS data,” Diez explains. “We’d love to get the LEEDS reports into an online data system that community coalitions and regional and state stakeholders could access directly and use for prevention planning and grant proposals.”

For more information on LEEDs, contact Jenna Iberg Johnson, MSPH, at 504.568.8312 or