Emergency departments struggling to help patients with addiction during pandemic

Hospital emergency department visits from patients overdosing on drugs have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many emergency departments are ill-equipped to treat addiction, experts told NPR

When the pandemic started, overall visits to emergency departments fell by more than 40 percent as people feared contracting the virus, NPR reported. But Kristin Holland, PhD, a CDC researcher, said drug-related overdoses were the only category for which emergency departments saw an increase in visits. 

"People are indeed experiencing poor mental health, suicidal thoughts, and substance use potentially as a coping mechanism," Dr. Holland told NPR.

Experts told NPR that many emergency departments aren't well staffed or trained to treat addiction patients.

"Emergency physicians have always been able to treat the overdose, but we did not have the tools to treat the addiction or the dependency," Mark Rosenberg, DO, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told NPR

Most emergency departments don't use buprenorphine, a drug proven to help patients with opioid addiction avoid relapsing, NPR reported. Only one-third of patients get medications for opioid use disorder in emergency departments, Dr. Rosenberg told the publication. But overdose patients discharged from the hospital without any further treatment are a hundred times more likely to die within the year, he said. 

Fatal drug-related overdoses in the U.S. have risen during the pandemic, with more than 220 deaths every day, according to CDC data cited by NPR

Read the full article here.

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