How ERs fall short on overdose treatment

Many emergency departments send overdose patients home without medication-assisted therapies or a referral to other types of treatment, which misses an opportunity to help address the nation's opioid crisis, reports Kaiser Health News.

KHN cited a 2019 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, which examined Medicaid claims for 301 patients who experienced nonfatal overdoses in West Virginia between 2014-15. Researchers found that less than 10 percent of study participants received drugs like buprenorphine to help treat their opioid use disorder, and only 15 percent received mental health counseling in the month after their overdose.

"We expected more … especially given the national news about opioid abuse," lead author Neel Koyawala, a second-year medical student at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told KHN.

This shortcoming is not unique to West Virginia. ERs across the country are falling short, according to Andrew Kolodny, MD, co-director of opioid policy research at the Waltham, Mass.-based Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

"There's a lot of evidence that we're failing to take advantage of this low-hanging fruit with individuals who have experienced a nonfatal overdose," he told KHN. "We should be focusing resources on that population. We should be doing everything we can to get them plugged into treatment."

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