Evaluation of an emergency department buprenorphine induction and medication-assisted treatment referral program

Am J Emerg Med. 2020 Feb;38(2):300-304. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2019.158373. Epub 2019 Jul 30.


Background: Emergency departments are struggling to manage the increasing number of patients seen for opioid use disorders and opioid overdose. With opioid overdose deaths rising at alarming rates, emergency physicians are beginning to induce patients with long-acting opioids such as buprenorphine and referring patients to outpatient medication-assisted treatment facilities. The objective of this study was to describe a pragmatic approach to buprenorphine induction, referral to treatment, and assess follow-up rates.

Methods: Single center, retrospective analysis of emergency department patients undergoing buprenorphine induction and referral to outpatient medication-assisted treatment. Patients were identified by an ongoing log of induced patients, between May 2017 and October 2018. The data is analyzed using descriptive statistics, with means and associated standard deviations, medians and interquartile ranges for continuous variables, and frequencies as percentages for categorical data.

Results: Overall, 219 patients were seen and induced with buprenorphine in the emergency department. Mean age was 35 years old (SD 10.3) and 56% were male. Intravenous opioids were most commonly abused at 75%. Our primary outcome of interest was the percentage of patients enrolled in MAT at 30 days, which occurred in 49.3% of our population. Patients were in moderate withdrawal based on initial COWS scores of 13.1(SD 5.8), and received mean total doses of 7.7 mg (SD 3.3). Median ED length of stay decreased by 40% between May 2017 and October 2018.

Conclusion: Emergency department initiated buprenorphine induction using a structured pragmatic approach is effective at maintaining patients in medication-assisted therapy.

Keywords: Buprenorphine; Emergency department; Induction; Medication-assisted treatment; Opioid use disorder; Overdose.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Cattle
  • Colorado
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Program Development
  • Program Evaluation
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine