Implementing Programs to Initiate Buprenorphine for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment in High-Need, Low-Resource Emergency Departments: A Nonrandomized Controlled Trial

Ann Emerg Med. 2023 Sep;82(3):272-287. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2023.02.013. Epub 2023 May 2.


Study objective: We hypothesized that implementation facilitation would enable us to rapidly and effectively implement emergency department (ED)-initiated buprenorphine programs in rural and urban settings with high-need, limited resources and dissimilar staffing structures.

Methods: This multicenter implementation study employed implementation facilitation using a participatory action research approach to develop, introduce, and refine site-specific clinical protocols for ED-initiated buprenorphine and referral in 3 EDs not previously initiating buprenorphine. We assessed feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness by triangulating mixed-methods formative evaluation data (focus groups/interviews and pre/post surveys involving staff, patients, and stakeholders), patients' medical records, and 30-day outcomes from a purposive sample of 40 buprenorphine-receiving patient-participants who met research eligibility criteria (English-speaking, medically stable, locator information, nonprisoners). We estimated the primary implementation outcome (proportion receiving ED-initiated buprenorphine among candidates) and the main secondary outcome (30-day treatment engagement) using Bayesian methods.

Results: Within 3 months of initiating the implementation facilitation activities, each site implemented buprenorphine programs. During the 6-month programmatic evaluation, there were 134 ED-buprenorphine candidates among 2,522 encounters involving opioid use. A total of 52 (41.6%) practitioners initiated buprenorphine administration to 112 (85.1%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 79.7% to 90.4%) unique patients. Among 40 enrolled patient-participants, 49.0% (35.6% to 62.5%) were engaged in addiction treatment 30 days later (confirmed); 26 (68.4%) reported attending one or more treatment visits; there was a 4-fold decrease in self-reported overdose events (odds ratio [OR] 4.03; 95% CI 1.27 to 12.75). The ED clinician readiness increased by a median of 5.02 (95% CI: 3.56 to 6.47) from 1.92/10 to 6.95/10 (n(pre)=80, n(post)=83).

Conclusions: The implementation facilitation enabled us to effectively implement ED-based buprenorphine programs across heterogeneous ED settings rapidly, which was associated with promising implementation and exploratory patient-level outcomes.

Trial registration: NCT03544112.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Buprenorphine* / therapeutic use
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Buprenorphine
  • Narcotic Antagonists

Associated data