UAB’s Emergency Department (ED) is starting a new program to better treat patients with opioid use disorder. The initiative, funded with $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, focuses on increasing the use of Medication Assisted Treatment Protocol (MAT). This treatment relies on a drug called Suboxone, which reduces withdrawal symptoms for patients recovering from an opioid overdose.
Dr. Erik Hess, vice chair for research in UAB’s Emergency Department, says Suboxone is a very effective treatment for opioid use disorder. But the drug is not used as often as it could be.
“The government has actually made it a requirement for eight hours of training for any provider who wants to provide a subscription for it (Suboxone),” Hess says, “which has set up a pretty substantial barrier for most providers.”
Hess says up until recently, only three ED doctors at UAB had completed this training. The goal now is to certify at least 75% of the department’s physicians to administer Suboxone.
Another focus of the program is to better connect patients with resources once they leave the ED. This involves a partnership with a local referral hub called the Recovery Resource Center at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services.
The Recovery Resource Center will send peer navigators, people who themselves are in long-term recovery, to meet with patients at the emergency department. Navigators will help patients transition out of the ED and find long-term treatment options.
UAB’s new program is funded for three years. During that time, officials expect to enroll more than 500 patients. They hope to see a 30% decrease in the number of deaths due to opioid overdose in Jefferson County. According to the Jefferson County Department of Health, 161 people died from an opioid overdose in 2018.