Opioid Addiction and Revolving Emergency Room Doors

The findings from a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) noted some drug users aren’t afraid of overdosing. NIDA director Nora Volkow said she was especially surprised to learn, “That whole notion of the fear of overdosing is not having a deterring effect.

From February to June 2016, New Hampshire’s, (for example) opioid-related emergency department visits increased by 70 percent. According to Volkow, emergency department physicians, primary care physicians and other specialty doctors usually don’t get involved in treating people addicted to heroin or prescription opioids, yet, she says they should be trained in treatment and be allowed to administer medicine used to treat the addiction.

When patients end up in the emergency room from an overdose, they are released after they are cared for, without any treatment medications or plans. Volkow says, “Guess what happens? They are released and overdose again.”  

According to Manchester, New Hampshire’s Fire Department Chief, Daniel Goonan, at least half of his job is dedicated to dealing with the state’s opioid crisis. “This isn’t your father’s fire station anymore,” says Goonan. His department has responded to more than 350 suspected opioid overdoses, 35 of which have been fatal, so far this year.

The revolving door in emergency rooms, whether New Hampshire or any other state, is directly related to the availability of funding for effective addiction treatment. Rehab costs vary depending upon the the facility, the necessity for detox, days allocated for inpatient and outpatient treatment. A 30-day inpatient or residential treatment program costs can range from $6,000 to $20,000.

What does it take to put an end to a national crisis? The AIDS epidemic struck the United States in the 1980s. In 1983 the Centers for Disease Control published their first set of recommended precautions for healthcare workers and allied health professionals to prevent AIDS transmission. Because of homophobia and stigma, the spread of the disease wasn’t taken seriously by government officials. Through grassroots efforts by gay community activism and determination, drug research and findings began to save lives.

The revolving door in emergency rooms must stop at the local level. Funding is critical to stem the horrible statistics of drug-related deaths. We cannot wait for the government to take action. We need to put pressure on our local and state officials. You can make a big difference by calling your state representative or congressperson today. You can save lives.

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