State officials say they are puzzled by a new federal report showing that Baltimore experienced a sharp increase last year in hospital emergency room admissions for drug problems -- a possible sign of rising drug abuse.
There were 6,400 Baltimore emergency-room cases involving drugs in 1990, up from 4,900 in 1989, according to figures released this week by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The largest increase was in cases involving cocaine, from 1,900 to 3,100.
"I can't explain a large jump like that," says Bill Rusinko, an official in the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.
The state has its own data, based on admissions to drug treatment programs, showing that cocaine use appears to be leveling off, Rusinko says. That contradicts the trend suggested by the hospital emergency room statistics.
Rusinko says he will investigate how the federal data were collected.
Baltimore's experience was the exception: Nationwide there was a "dramatic decline" in cocaine-related emergency admissions, from 109,700 in 1989 to an estimated 79,400 last year, NIDA reported Tuesday.
Heroin-related admissions dropped 19.3 percent, from 41,800 to 33,700, in the same period.
Federal officials welcomed the hospital data because they consider it a key indicator of drug-abuse trends. But the officials cautioned that the rate of decline in drug-related emergency admissions slowed in the second half of 1990.
"We stand by our previous assertions that progress against drug addiction will continue and that the long-term trends will reflect a downward path," says Bob Martinez, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "This current data, however, is the first indication that such progress may at times be slower and more uneven.