Executive Summary

A new randomized trial shows patients who present to the ED with opioid dependence are much more likely to engage in treatment when they receive buprenorphine along with coordinated follow-up than when they just receive a brief intervention and a facilitated referral for treatment or just screening and referral. However, barriers to prescribing are robust, and many ED leaders are not persuaded they should be in the business of providing treatment for addiction.

• In the trial, at 30 days 78% of patients in the buprenorphine group (89 of 114 patients) were engaged in addiction treatment, compared with just 45% of the patients in the brief intervention group (50 of 111 patients) and 37% of patients in the referral group (38 of 102 patients).

• To prescribe buprenorphine for addiction disease, providers must undergo training and pass a test to obtain a DEA waiver; they are limited to treating 100 patients.

• While experts note there are not enough providers to prescribe buprenorphine and provide the follow-up needed to patients with addiction disease, they also acknowledge concerns about drug diversion as well as potential problems with capacity if EDs take a larger role in treating addiction.