Withdrawing from heroin and other opioids can feel like a horrific case of the flu. For Chris, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy, it began with anxiety, then devolved into hot and cold sweats, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
He went to the ER multiple times hoping to find relief, but most of the time they could only give him anti-nausea medication, fluids and sometimes an anti-anxiety pill, treating his symptoms but doing nothing to treat his addiction. Often after leaving the hospital he was back on the streets in search of his next fix just to feel better.
At Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, the emergency department did a trial, offering a new option to patients like Chris. Over the summer, it began offering buprenorphine — better known by its brand name Suboxone — to stabilize patients suffering from withdrawal before referring them to medication-assisted drug treatment. The program follows a study by the Yale School of Medicine that found that patients who received the medication were more than twice as likely to stay in treatment for at least 30 days. It’s one of the few hospitals in Washington to offer the treatment.
During the two-month study, the hospital referred more than 30 patients to treatment, and the research team, led by Dr. Darin Neven and University of Washington medical student Ariana Kamaliazad, plans to publish their findings after seeing how many patients stuck with their treatment programs. Due to budget constraints, they were only able to refer two patients a day and were sometimes forced to turn patients away.
Buprenorphine and methadone are the drugs used to help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal while patients receive treatment to stop using heroin or opioids. It makes patients less likely to relapse and more likely to kick their habit. Buprenorphine specifically activates the brain’s opioid receptors just enough to stop withdrawal symptoms, not enough to get high. With a ceiling at which taking more will not increase its affect, buprenorphine is nearly impossible to overdose on.
With the opioid crisis that has sadly affected so many, treating addiction in the ER could offer promise for better treatment and recovery, and better health for our communities. Click here to read more in an article from The Spokesman-Review. (Tim Pfarr)