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Emergency room treatment can ease opioid abuse

February 13, 2017 GMT

A new study out of Yale University shows that those struggling with opioid addiction are more likely to receive treatment, and reduce drug use long-term, if they seek care in the emergency department.

According to the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, those treated in the emergency department are typically started on medication to reduce cravings, and the benefits of this treatment can last for up to two months.

This news builds on earlier findings about opioid treatment and emergency department care. In a prior study, the Yale research team found that individuals with opioid addiction who were treated with medication in the hospital were more likely to get treatment beyond the ED and lessen their opioid use. Yet it was not known how long the benefits of medication initiated in the emergency department would last.

In the long-term follow-up from the randomized trial, the Yale team provided one of three interventions to 290 individuals with opioid addiction who visited the hospital. Patients received a referral to addiction treatment services; or a brief interview including discussion of treatment; or a brief interview together with the medication buprenorphine. The third group continued medication in primary care.


The research team evaluated patients at two, six, and 12 months following the emergency department interventions. For each individual, they assessed participation in addiction treatment, opioid use, and HIV risk, in addition to taking urine tests.

At the end of two months, patients who received buprenorphine from the hospital were more likely to be in formal addiction treatment, and also to report reduced opioid use, compared to the other groups. There were no significant differences in HIV risk or the urine test results.

The findings add to mounting evidence that medication treatment for opioid users, initiated in the emergency department and continued in primary care, improves outcomes for patients as long as the intervention is continued. The researchers are currently leading an National Institutes of Health-funded study disseminating this model in emergency departments in four cities around the country.