News / Articles
Marissa Angola (name changed) got treated for her heroin overdose in May 2016 at the emergency room of a hospital in Midland, Texas. Prior to that, she had been treated for her alcohol poisoning or for disorders pertaining to her excessive drug usage. Even though her acute health issues were treated each time she landed in an emergency room (ER), she never really got treated for her underlying disorder – addiction. At 36, Angola has been grappling with substance use disorder (SUD) since she was 16, when she first started drinking alcohol. Following that, her broken ankle led her to abuse prescription pain medication and she eventually switched to heroin and fentanyl.
Prior to her 2016 overdose, Angola’s infected heart valve had been replaced. This infection stemmed from her drug abuse. However, she started using drugs from the next day of her discharge leading to a relapse of infection that cost her eight fingers and all 10 toes.
Now in recovery, Angola realizes that the doctors at the various ERs had treated her surface ailments and had never actually directed her to a substance abuse treatment center. Had someone cared enough to guide her to such a clinic, she would have been greatly helped and much earlier.
Addiction treatment remains elusive
What Angola faced, happens with millions of other patients across the country where after an ER visit, they are not directed into addiction treatment programs. This disconnect was documented by a recent investigation of Medicaid claims in West Virginia where the rate of opioid overdose is thrice the national average and the death rate from drug overdoses the highest in the country.
The investigation analyzed the claims of 301 patients who had nonfatal overdoses between 2014 and 2015. By examining the opioid poisoning codes of the hospital, the researchers tracked the patients’ treatment seeing if they were charged for mental health visits in the succeeding months, received any counseling for opioid use, or received any prescriptions for substance abuse medications or psychiatric treatment. It was found that less than 10 percent of the study population received medications like naltrexone or buprenorphine per month for the management of their SUD. Mental health counseling was received by 15 percent of the patients in the month of overdose. However, this number fell to less than 10 percent per month, in the year following the overdose.
Missed opportunity in ERs
Neel Koyawal, lead study author stated that he and his team expected a higher percentage of people to have enrolled in addiction and mental health treatments, given the status of the opioid crisis in the country. Andrew Kolodny, co-director, Opioid Policy Research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at the Brandeis University, felt that such untreated cases represented “missed opportunities” in the ERs. He further added that every effort should have been made and should be made to transition this patient population into treatment.
He gave an example of a patient visiting an ER with a heart attack. The obvious course of treatment is to prescribe medications to the patients and provide a referral to a cardiac specialist. Likewise, he said, patients coming in with a problem of an overdose should be started on buprenorphine and given the referrals for substance abuse treatments. Both Koyawal and Kolodny cited a lack of understanding and training amongst the healthcare professionals as a reason for not being able to divert patients towards treatment once they were stabilized after their overdose.
Addiction treatment paramount in combatting opioid epidemic
When a patient visits an ER with an overdose problem, they feel sick and uncomfortable. However, surviving that episode does not decrease their risk of overdosing again. It is therefore, indispensable that such patients receive proper treatment for their addictions and hence, must be referred to a specialist.
If you or someone you know is addicted to substances and is looking for substance abuse treatment centers to overcome their addiction, then the Hillside Mission can help. Our professionals can administer drug detox treatment that gently helps an individual get rid of the toxins accumulated in the body with years of abuse. An inpatient substance abuse treatment clinic, we customize your journey to sobriety, ensuring that you achieve lasting recovery. For more information about our rapid detox programs, call our 24/7 helpline (866)-225-6101 or chat online with a representative.