Excela Health emergency department patients with an opioid addiction can now get a dose of Suboxone before leaving the hospital.
Local officials and lawmakers have worked for months to clear the way for a medication-assisted treatment program at all three hospitals which have already adopted other programs to connect people with substance abuse problems to treatment facilities.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity,”said Elizabeth Comer, Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission’s director of clinical and case management services. “This is a true warm hand-off program, meeting people where they present.”
Patients with an addiction problem who come in to the emergency department for any reason, including a drug overdose, can be screened by a doctor for the program, said Dr. Bill Jenkins, director of the emergency department at Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant. If the patient qualifies for medication-assisted treatment, a doctor can prescribe the first dose of Suboxone and enlist the help of mobile case managers who already work in the emergency departments through the drug and alcohol commission.
Mobile case managers will then hook the patient up with a clinic that can see them the next day. Suboxone can be used to treat an opioid addiction along with counseling and other support, according to the drug’s website.
“Our providers in the county have all stepped up in order to serve the patient,” Comer said. “That’s a change of culture.”
For at least 48 hours after taking a dose, the patient’s withdrawal symptoms will be significantly reduced. It’s important to couple medication-assisted treatment with counseling to help patients get on the right track, said Tom Plaitano. He helped with the program planning as a member of the county’s criminal justice advisory board and is a former owner of a methadone and Suboxone clinic in Hempfield.
“It saves resources, it saves EMT, it saves emergency department time and it gives us that one chance to get them into treatment,” he said.
The hospitals have yet to have a patient qualify for the program, but officials are optimistic it could help.
“Hopefully, it will give people the opportunity … to transition in a medication-assisted treatment plan directly from the emergency department,” Jenkins said.
The move could prevent patients from resuming drug use after being discharged, an especially risky behavior after being revived by opioid overdose antidote naloxone, Comer said.
“The problem was … it’s a miracle that they’re revived by (naloxone) but (it) puts you in immediate withdrawal,” she said. “It’s really giving them the correct tools for recovery.”