Making EDs and hospitals an access point for opioid addiction treatment

The drug overdose death toll for 2019 broke all previous records for New Mexico and the USA.  Unfortunately, the drug overdose death counts in 2020 will clearly surpass the 2019 records.1  Drug overdose is the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 20 and 50.,,,  The vast majority of overdose deaths involve opioids.  While the primary killer among opioids has evolved from prescription opioids to heroin to fentanyl, overdose deaths from all forms of opioids continue to rise.  Accompanying the rapid rise in illicit opioid use, the prevalence of benzodiazepine, cocaine, and methamphetamine misuse has risen dramatically as well.,  Furthermore, the exploding prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD) over the last decade has led to an exponential increase in injection drug use, such that injecting (rather than smoking or “snorting”) cocaine and methamphetamine is now commonplace.  With this evolution, fentanyl and methamphetamine have become the leading drivers of drug overdose deaths in New Mexico.  Importantly, for many patients, the development of multiple substance use disorders (SUDs) begins with OUD, and successful treatment for other SUDs often hinges upon the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Unfortunately, historically, there has been little guidance for emergency clinicians (or physicians providing inpatient medical care) on how to best identify and treat patients with signs and symptoms of OUD – other than saying “no” to requests for opioid prescriptions.  Tragically, emergency clinicians routinely face opioid use disorder complications, such as overdoses, infections, and traumatic injuries, but current standards of care do not address the underlying substance use disorder. Consequently, current emergency department (ED) treatment of these complications usually does not facilitate the entry into OUD treatment nor impact patients’ risk of mortality or future injury. 

However, EDs (and hospital inpatient units) can be key access points for starting addiction treatment.,  The ED, specifically, is a site increasingly recognized as a portal for initiating medication treatment for OUD.,,  Fortunately, in some centers in New Mexico, emergency clinicians are using buprenorphine not only to treat acute opioid withdrawal, but to initiate medication for addiction treatment (MAT) and to connect patients to outpatient clinics to continue their treatment and recovery. 

Buprenorphine is one of the key medications employed as Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT), sometimes referred to Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), and previously referred to as “medication assisted treatment (MAT)”.  Other MAT medications are methadone and naltrexone.  MAT is life saving and life transforming.  Patients with OUD who continue MAT for one year have a nearly 60% percent mortality risk reduction compared to OUD patients who do not receive MAT.  Furthermore, MAT has been shown to be eight times more effective in reducing overdose mortality than non-medication-based treatment programs.17  The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes MAT as the most effective tool in reducing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.,,,,,,,,,,,,  MAT has been demonstrated to reduce hospitalization, ED utilization,,, as well as rates of crime and incarceration.,,,,  Beginning MAT in the ED – ED buprenorphine initiation – has been demonstrated in multiple studies to profoundly improve the rate at which ED patients enter OUD treatment.12,13,14,15 

New Mexico is embarking on a new project, the New Mexico Bridge, to assist hospitals throughout New Mexico, as they develop programs for buprenorphine initiation and linkage to OUD treatment in their EDs and inpatient units.  Beginning with Holy Cross Medical Center in Taos, the New Mexico Bridge program will collaborate with several hospitals over the next two years, with a focus on rural and underserved communities, as we assist them while they develop guidelines and pathways for OUD treatment initiation with buprenorphine in the ED (and inpatient units), along with links to outpatient treatment for long-term recovery. 

In addition, New Mexico Bridge will provide guidance and support for the development of peer support programs or partnerships in the ED (and hospital), to further improve the capability to link patients to ongoing treatment.  The Bridge Program will also aid in the development of coding and billing resources to aid in cost recovery, as well as data tracking tools to monitor OUD patient prevalence, frequency of buprenorphine utilization, frequency of buprenorphine prescribing, and rates of linkage to care.  






9 2019#:~:text=Drug%20 overdose%20deaths%20in%20the,by%20drug%20category%20and%20state.

10 NMDOH Bureau of Vital Statistics and Health Statistics death data 2020 data provisional through July as of 10/14/20

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