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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Intoxication calls: How cops can aid our responses

Several urban centers such as San Francisco have established sobering centers

By Arthur Hsieh

Managing an intoxicated patient on a Saturday night is not my idea of fun — it's work.

While it can be mildly amusing at times, it's more frustrating than anything else — especially when the reason for the EMS call is directly correlated to the level of ethanol present in the patient's bloodstream.

Moreover, while the injury or illness is not significant or even exist, the inability for the inebriated patient to be able to legally refuse medical care or transport results in an expensive cab ride to the hospital and an EMS unit being taken out of service.

In the United States, several urban centers such as San Francisco have established sobering centers as a way to divert qualified patients away from both jail cells and hospital beds.

This story out of England shows potentially another way to manage this group of patients. By teaming law enforcement and EMS to specifically target these patients, it has the potential to free up both types of resources when call volume is heavy.

In addition, law enforcement is trained and equipped to identify the individual who is legally intoxicated, while the EMS provider can provide the comprehensive assessment necessary to rule out potential medical conditions.

It's a good fit.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at
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