The opioid epidemic has disproportionately impacted areas in the Appalachian region of the United States. Characterized by persistent Medicaid nonexpansion, higher poverty rates, and health care access challenges, populations residing in these areas of the United States have experienced higher opioid overdose death rates than those in other parts of the country. Jefferson County, Alabama, located in Southern Appalachia, has been especially affected, with overdose rates over 2 times greater than the statewide average (48.8 vs 19.9 overdoses per 10,000 persons). Emergency departments (EDs) have been recognized as a major health care source for persons with opioid use disorder (OUD). A program to initiate medications for OUD in the ED has been shown to be effective in treatment retention. Likewise, continued patient engagement in a recovery or treatment program after ED discharge has been shown to be efficient for long-term treatment success.
This protocol outlines a framework for ED-initiated medications for OUD in a resource-limited region of the United States; the study will be made possible through community partnerships with referral resources for definitive OUD care.
When a patient presents to the ED with symptoms of opioid withdrawal, nonfatal opioid overdose, or requesting opioid detoxification, clinicians will consider the diagnosis of OUD using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition) criteria. All patients meeting the diagnostic criteria for moderate to severe OUD will be further engaged and assessed for study eligibility. Recruited subjects will be evaluated for signs and symptoms of withdrawal, treated with buprenorphine-naloxone as appropriate, and given a prescription for take-home induction along with an intranasal naloxone kit. At the time of ED discharge, a peer navigator from a local substance use coordinating center will be engaged to facilitate patient referral to a regional substance abuse coordinating center for longitudinal addiction treatment.
This project is currently ongoing; it received funding in February 2019 and was approved by the institutional review board of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in June 2019. Data collection began on July 7, 2019, with a projected end date in February 2022. In total, 79 subjects have been enrolled to date. Results will be published in the summer of 2022.
ED recognition of OUD accompanied by buprenorphine-naloxone induction and referral for subsequent long-term treatment engagement have been shown to be components of an effective strategy for addressing the ongoing opioid crisis. Establishing community and local partnerships, particularly in resource-limited areas, is crucial for the continuity of addiction care and rehabilitation outcomes.