A new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine suggests the medical community still has much to learn about the dangers of opioid addiction.
In a nationwide study of approximately 6,500 privately insured patients, researchers discovered that the overwhelming majority of people admitted to emergency rooms following an opioid overdose did not receive follow up treatments of any kind.
Yup. You read that right.
No follow up. The very thing that helps prevent future overdoses and death.
Just what was the percentage of those who did get further care? Sixteen percent. Eighty-four percent of patients received nothing in the way of follow up treatment.
Equally disturbing, researchers also discovered there was a significant disparity in follow-up treatment based on race. African Americans were only half as likely to receive that care as non-Hispanic white patients.
For this study, follow up treatment was defined as either the prescription of buprenorphine and/or naltrexone for opioid use disorder or further treatment in an outpatient or inpatient opioid treatment center.
According to the study's first author, Austin Kilaru, MD (an emergency department physician and a fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at Penn), "The ED encounter has been seen as a critical opportunity to engage a patient and connect them to the right care that gives them the best chance for recovery. However, even with commercially insured patients, who likely have superior ability to access care, we see these low treatment rates, particularly for minorities. There's more work to be done, and these findings give us a comprehensive picture of the gaps and disparities that could help inform those efforts moving forward."
If the last 15 years have taught us all nothing else, it is this: addictions treated superficially often turn deadly. Surely our medical providers know this fact.
Now they need to act by meaningfully engaging with patients as soon as they enter emergency departments having misused these drugs.
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