Overcoming Barriers to Initiating Medication-assisted Treatment for Heroin Use Disorder in a General Medical Hospital: A Case Report and Narrative Literature Review

J Psychiatr Pract. 2017 May;23(3):221-229. doi: 10.1097/PRA.0000000000000231.


Deaths due to heroin overdoses are increasing and are the leading cause of death among intravenous heroin users. Although medication-assisted treatment (MAT) improves morbidity and mortality in patients with opioid use disorders, it is underutilized. Most efforts to expand access to MAT have focused on outpatient settings. Although the inpatient medical setting presents a critical opportunity to initiate treatment, general hospitals are often unfamiliar with MAT, creating a number of barriers to its use. In this report, we describe the case of a woman with heroin use disorder who was initiated on buprenorphine maintenance treatment while hospitalized for cardiac disease related to her intravenous heroin use. Barriers to initiating buprenorphine in this case included patient, practitioner, and organizational factors, and, ultimately, shared misperceptions about the feasibility of administering buprenorphine in a general medical hospital. These barriers were addressed, buprenorphine was initiated, and the patient demonstrated reduced craving, improved postoperative pain control, improved overall well-being, increased engagement in discharge planning, and acceptance of referral for addiction specialty aftercare. Our experience with this patient suggests that it is feasible to initiate buprenorphine in acute medical settings and that such treatment can improve patient outcomes. Our review of the literature reveals emerging evidence supporting the value of this practice.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Heroin Dependence / rehabilitation
  • Hospitals, General / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / psychology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / psychology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Referral and Consultation


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine