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Substance use in psychiatric crisis: Relationship to violence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Accepted/In press2020

King's Authors


Background Substance use and psychiatric illness, particularly psychotic disorders, contribute to violence in emergency healthcare settings. However, there is limited research regarding the relationship between specific substances, psychotic symptoms and violent behaviour in such settings. We investigated the interaction between recent cannabinoid and stimulant use, and acute psychotic symptoms, in relation to violent behaviour in a British emergency healthcare setting. Methods We used electronic medical records from detentions of 1089 individuals under Section 136 of the UK Mental Health Act (1983 amended 2007), an emergency police power used to detain people for 24-36 h for psychiatric assessment. The relationship between recent cannabinoids and/or stimulant use, psychotic symptoms, and violent behaviour, was estimated using logistic regression. Findings There was evidence of recent alcohol or drug use in 64.5% of detentions. Violent incidents occurred in 12.6% of detentions. Psychotic symptoms increased the odds of violence by 4.0 [95% confidence intervals (CI) 2.2-7.4; p < 0.0001]. Cannabinoid use combined with psychotic symptoms increased the odds of violence further [odds ratios (OR) 7.1, 95% CI 3.7-13.6; p < 0.0001]. Recent use of cannabinoids with stimulants but without psychotic symptoms was also associated with increased odds of violence (OR 3.3, 95% CI 1.4-7.9; p < 0.0001). Interpretation In the emergency setting, patients who have recently used cannabinoids and exhibit psychotic symptoms are at higher risk of violent behaviour. Those who have used both stimulants and cannabinoids without psychotic symptoms may also be at increased risk. De-escalation protocols in emergency healthcare settings should account explicitly for substance use.

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