The war on opioid addiction: Effort afoot to shorten the path from ER to treatment

Moving overdose victims from emergency room to treatment quickly seems like it should be easier than it is.

Getting opioid addicts from the emergency room to a treatment program is easier in theory than it is in practice.

But Gina Marchetti, a former addict, is on a crusade to help get overdose victims brought into the ER directly into treatment, a process known as a “warm handoff,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. This avoids sending addicts back home or onto the streets, where they will likely face further temptation between their overdose and any type of scheduled entry into a treatment program.

RELATED: ERs adapt to treating opioid-addicted patients

The ongoing opioid epidemic has alread led emergency departments to revisit their prescribing habits. At the federal level, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has made curbing the epidemic a top priority. Despite those efforts, the deck is often stacked against addicts.

There simply are not enough spots in opioid treatment programs to meet the need, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Worse, if overdose victims do not have photo identification, federal law prohibits them from being admitted to methadone maintenance programs.

RELATED: Efforts to curb opioid epidemic remain top priority for CMS

Priya Mammen, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at the Methodist and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia, told the publication that patients with less stigmatized chronic issues—such as diabetes or hypertension—are relatively easy to refer for treatment. When it comes to addicts, however, “physically being able to make an appointment or referring them happens very rarely,” she said.

The article noted more funding has become available as state governments seek ways to help emergency departments take a greater role in moving addicts into treatment. As comprehensive facilities geared toward warm handoffs get off the ground, some see promising traction.

For example, the First Steps Treatment Center in Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where Marchetti works as a certified recovery specialist, opened its 52-bed residential facility in late March, and has already reportedly funneled 37% of its 447 patients into treatment.