BOSTON (AP) -- Patients at Massachusetts General Hospital will soon be asked questions about their alcohol and illegal drug use, no matter why they’re at the hospital.

The program scheduled to start this fall is part of a broader plan to improve addiction treatment at the Boston hospital and its community health centers.

Caregivers will ask patients how often they have had six or more drinks on one occasion, and whether they have used an illegal drug in the past year, according to a report in The Boston Globe (http://bit.ly/Tw6d7e ).

If the questioning reveals a possible addiction, doctors can summon a team to conduct a "bedside intervention" and, if needed, arrange treatment.

Some hospitals already ask emergency room patients about alcohol and drug use, and the American College of Surgeons has required hospitals to ask all trauma patients about their alcohol use since 2006. But standardized hospital-wide substance-abuse screening of all patients is not tracked.

MGH officials say the practice will reduce costs and improve care.

The hospital recently studied more than 2,500 patients with identified substance abuse disorders who were in the hospital for various medical problems and found they had longer stays and higher readmission rates. The cost of their care averaged 40 to 50 percent higher than the cost of treating patients with other chronic conditions.

Substance abuse can affect other medical issues, doctors said.


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Dr. Timothy Wilens, director of addiction medicine at MGH, said a patient with high blood pressure who reports drinking four bourbons a night, for example, may not think alcohol use is an issue.

"I would say, ‘Let me tell you that when you drink at that level, it starts to affect you liver and cardiovascular health,"’ Wilens said.

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Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com