Study: Treatment for opioid use disorder rare in hospital settings

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A new study of opioid use disorder patients who are hospitalized has found that only a small percentage of them are given medications to treat their disorder.

The study, from the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, found that when patients are hospitalized and identified as having opioid use disorder as an underlying issue, only a scant portion of them are given medication-assisted treatment for the disorder during their hospitalization or linked with treatment services upon their discharge.

“It really paints a bleak picture of the current state of affairs about the treatment of people with opioid use disorder nationwide,” said lead author Kelsey Priest, Ph.D., M.P.H., a health systems researcher and current M.D./Ph.D. student in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine.

The study looked at more than 12,000 patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system database hospitalized in 2017. Of those, they identified 10,969 patients who had underlying opioid use disorder. Of those patients, the study found that only 2 percent of them received medication to treat their disorder while they were hospitalized and were connected to care for the disorder after they were discharged.

Previous studies from the university have shown that patients who are given medications like buprenorphine while they are hospitalized are twice as likely to continue the therapy after their discharge.

“This is a huge missed opportunity,” said co-author Honora Englander, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Hospitalization is a reachable moment to initiate and coordinate therapy to treat substance use disorder This study shows that in the VA – which most likely out-performs other U.S. hospitals – life-saving, evidence-based treatment is rarely prescribed.”

The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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