Implementation of emergency department-initiated buprenorphine for opioid use disorder in a rural southern state

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2020 Mar;112S:73-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.02.007.


Aim: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Clinical Trials Network (CTN), an entity aimed at bridging researchers and community-based substance abuse treatment providers to develop new treatment approaches, has taken an interest in the dissemination of findings from a randomized clinical trial by D'Onofrio demonstrating that initiating buprenorphine in the emergency department (ED) enhances linkage to treatment [JAMA 2015; 313 (16): 1636-1644]. In the Southern Consortium Node of the CTN, the authors have taken an implementation science approach to expand on the D'Onofrio study by implementing an ED-based buprenorphine initiation program in three diverse South Carolina EDs utilizing a predominantly peer recovery coach model. The aim of this pilot program was to foundationally integrate universal screening, brief interventions and referral to treatment (SBIRT) in hospital EDs to identify patients with at-risk substance use. Through brief interventions, patient navigators assessed readiness to change and motivation for treatment of patients. Patients willing to engage in treatment were referred to appropriate community resources. Patients identified to have opioid use disorder (OUD) and willing to engage in treatment were eligible for ED-initiated buprenorphine and peer recovery coaches assisted in arranging next day follow up with a community treatment program or other local provider for ongoing treatment.

Method: Hospital partner sites included a large academic medical center, a large private hospital, and a small community hospital. Prior to implementing this quality improvement initiative, the authors completed an ED workflow analysis at each site, developed internal planning committees including identification of a "hospital champion," facilitated electronic health record modifications, educated more than 200 ED nurses and providers, and identified a network of local community "fast-track" providers able to accept patients for next-day appointments.

Results: Within 14 months, all three sites were fully operationalized and project staff in 3 ED sites screened 6523 patients for substance misuse with 33.0% screened positive for at-risk substance use. Positive screening results were as follows by substance: 907 alcohol, 100 cocaine, 40 methamphetamine, 7 amphetamines, 96 marijuana, 12 benzodiazepines, 3 Ecstasy/MDMA/Molly, 10 other/unknown substance, 274 heroin, 90 prescription opioids, 32 other/unknown opioid, 254 undetermined polysubstance use without opioids, and 331 polysubstance use with opioids. Of the 727 positive screened patients for non-medical opioid use, 70.0% were determined potentially eligible to receive buprenorphine initiation. Two-hundred thirty-one patients were initiated with one dose of 8 mg sublingual buprenorphine or 8-2 mg sublingual buprenorphine/naloxone; 76.6% of those initiated arrived to next-day appointments for continued medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD); and 59.9% of those patients were retained in treatment at 30 days. Of referred patients, payor at time of ED visit were as follows: 71.1% uninsured, 21.4% state Medicaid, 1.6% Medicare, and 5.9% private health insurance.

Conclusion: With adequate resources and institutional support, implementation of evidence-based quality improvement initiatives focused on OUDs are feasible and enhance linkage to evidence-based treatment in a rural Southern state. Lessons learned from this implementation study can be used to guide future CTN studies focused on ED settings.

Project support: Financially supported by South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services with consultation and guidance from Mosaic Group and South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Services.

Keywords: ED MAT; ED MAT implementation; ED MOUD; ED MOUD implementation; ED SBIRT; ED buprenorphine; Emergency department MAT; Emergency department MOUD; Emergency department SBIRT; Emergency department–initiated buprenorphine; MAT; MOUD; MOUD and ED; SBIRT; SBIRT buprenorphine; SBIRT implementation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Buprenorphine* / therapeutic use
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • United States


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine