Lifesaving Addiction Drugs Rarely Given After Opioid Overdose

The opioid overdose caused 80,411 fatalities in the United States in 2021, making it a significant problem nationwide.

Fortunately, a group of researchers from the University of Michigan think that if hospital emergency departments used effective drugs to treat opioid addiction more effectively, future opioid overdoses, deaths, and other harms from addiction may be avoided.

Opioids are substances that can interact with opioid receptors in the brain, and they include substances that are derived from the poppy plant (Papaver somniferum) and semi- and synthetic substances with comparable qualities. Opioids, including morphine, fentanyl, and tramadol, are frequently used to alleviate pain.

Their misuse, abuse, and usage beyond prescribed medical purposes can result in opioid dependency and other health issues. Opioids can make breathing difficult due to their pharmacological effects, and an opioid overdose can be fatal.

The researchers, led by Thuy Nguyen of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, examined national Medicaid claims data of patients aged 12 to 64 treated for opioid overdoses in American emergency rooms in 2018.

They concentrated on emergency department visits for opioid overdoses and the frequency patients started using FDA-approved opioid addiction treatments such as buprenorphine, methadone, and extended-release naltrexone.

Even though these drugs can save lives, the researchers discovered that less than 20% of Medicaid patients received these prescriptions during emergency care or within 30 days of discharge. According to Nguyen, an assistant health management and policy professor, "there are almost 2 million opioid-related visits to emergency departments in the U.S. each year."

The fact that less than 1 in 6 ED visits resulted in filling prescriptions of medications for opioid use disorder suggests that crucial opportunities to prevent opioid overdose deaths are being missed for Medicaid patients."


Based on the study summary, several factors, such as a shortage of community-based professionals providing treatment, a lack of resources and training for health professionals regarding OUD medication, and efficient referral networks for addiction care between EDs and outpatient treatment centers, all contribute to the low rates of treatment initiation.

The report also breaks down which states and areas are most and least likely to initiate opioid addiction treatment following visits to the ED for opioid overdose. With start rates between 20% and 34%, eight states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maryland) had much higher rates than the national average.

This shows that improved performance may be attainable, says Nguyen in his conclusion. To increase treatment availability after ED visits for opioid overdose, policymakers may benefit from knowing why particular states are performing better than others.

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