Treating Opioid Withdrawal With Buprenorphine in a Community Hospital Emergency Department: An Outreach Program

Ann Emerg Med. 2020 Jan;75(1):49-56. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2019.08.420. Epub 2019 Nov 13.


Study objective: We assess the feasibility of using our community hospital emergency department (ED) as an immediate portal to medication-assisted treatment for patients in opioid withdrawal.

Methods: This was a prospective observational cohort study. In collaboration with an outpatient substance abuse treatment center, we alerted the public through media outlets that individuals could receive immediate buprenorphine treatment for opioid withdrawal in the ED, with rapid referral for medication-assisted treatment. If medication-assisted treatment intake was delayed, patients could return for up to 2 more days for buprenorphine administration to treat their withdrawal symptoms. We measured compliance with initial follow-up and continued treatment engagement at 30 and 90 days.

Results: The study was conducted during 12 months. A total of 62 patients were enrolled, evaluated for buprenorphine criteria, and referred for medication-assisted treatment. Fifty subjects were compliant with their first medication-assisted treatment follow-up visit (81% [95% confidence interval 71% to 91%]), and 43 of these 50 patients were still engaged in medication-assisted treatment at 30 days (86% [95% confidence interval 76% to 96%]), with 33 of the 50 still engaged at 90 days (66% [95% confidence interval 53% to 79%]). We observed no instances of precipitated withdrawal or other adverse reactions in the ED.

Conclusion: A substantial number of patients responded to this program and received accelerated engagement in medication-assisted treatment. Such a program is feasible in the community hospital ED and may prevent some individuals from relapsing into high-risk illicit drug use when immediate medication-assisted treatment is not otherwise available.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Community / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • New York
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine