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Few Americans Diagnosed as Alcoholics

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Researchers say about 8 percent of Americans are dependent on alcohol, but just .06 percent of health-plan members are diagnosed with alcoholism, Medical News Today reported July 23.

Researchers said that the study showed that health plans are doing a poor job of identifying alcohol problems, especially compared to other health conditions. For example, while only about 8 percent of health-plan members with alcohol problems are properly diagnosed, health plans correctly diagnose about 40 percent of people with depression, 65 percent of diabetics, and 70 percent of people with hypertension.

Moreover, less than half of those diagnosed with alcohol problems (44 percent) attended any kind of treatment within two weeks of diagnosis.

“This project offers concrete evidence of the scale of the challenge to improve the identification and treatment of alcohol dependence among America's workers,” said Eric Goplerud, Ph.D., director of the group Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, which conducted the review of the 2005 eValue8 RFI Initiative that includes data from about 250 U.S. health plans.

Goplerud said doctors as well as plan administrators shared blame for the problem. “Imagine discovering an illness that kills about 85,000 people annually, and then imagine that we identify only one in 20 of those people — even though we have effective treatments that can be administered by primary-care physicians or specialists,” he said. “Wouldn't there be an outcry to establish a national approach to improving access to quality care for this disease? Here we have such an illness: alcoholism. Yet we accept low rates of identification and treatment. Our approach to alcohol treatment is unlike what we expect and demand for treatment of diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma or virtually any other health condition.”

The evaluation was sponsored by the National Business Coalition on Health. The data was presented at an American Medical Association media briefing on “Alcohol Dependence: From Science to Solutions.”

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