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Emergency Room Practices Essential To Proper Treatment Of Those Abusing Painkillers

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Emergency room treatment can be essential in properly managing patients addicted to opioids. A new study reveals a prescription narcotic can significantly assist drug abusers seeking medical care.

Yale University researchers studied three treatment methods for patients with a history of excessive use of opioids. The team looked at over 300 opioid-dependent patients being treated at the emergency department at a teaching hospital. Patients were divided into three groups. The first received a list of services recommended by the health care professionals. The second received similar referrals in addition to a short motivational consultation. The remainder were provided with buprenorphine following a brief intervention. Use of this drug was continued through primary care.

Buprenorphine, a narcotic painkiller utilized to manage moderate to severe pain, was found to reduce the use of illicit opioid use.

"Prior research at Yale has demonstrated that buprenorphine treatment is highly effective in primary care, and this study was designed in part to expand the reach of this treatment to this critical ED patient population," Patrick O'Connor, chief of general internal medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, said.

Those provided with buprenorphine were twice as likely as patients in the other two groups to be participating in treatment 30 days after their emergency room visit. They were also found to be less likely than other participants to be using any form of illicit opioid.

Physicians typically refer patients who abuse the class of drugs to treatment centers to get help managing their habit. Patients with a history of opioid abuse often check into emergency departments due to overdoses, abscesses and other detrimental effects from their use of the narcotics.

Drug overdoses that involve both prescription and black market substances result in more deaths each year than car accidents across the United States. The use of opioids in all forms is rising across the country, according to some sources.

"Effectively linking ED-initiated buprenorphine treatment to ongoing treatment in primary care represents an exciting new model for engaging patients who are dependent on opioids into state-of-the-art care," O'Connor said.

Buprenorphine was first developed in 1969 by researchers at Reckitt & Coleman (now known as Reckitt Benckiser) who were searching for a synthetic opioid capable of acting as a treatment for drug abusers.

This new study was the first major randomized clinical trial ever conducted into the subject, authors state. Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.

Analysis of the role of buprenorphine in treating ED patients with a history of opioid drug use was detailed in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Photo: Jens Finke | Flickr

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