Failure to refer overdose patients for treatment should be malpractice, says NIDA's Volkow

Failure to refer overdose patients for treatment should be malpractice, says NIDA's Volkow

How important do you think it is to steer someone to treatment who has just been saved from a near-fatal opioid overdose?

If you answered “very” – and you probably did – you’re absolutely correct.

According to Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at least one in every 10 such patients – the ones who didn’t get into treatment – overdose again and die within a year.

"We cannot in any conscience, any one of us, release that patient without access to treatment,” Volkow told the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. “That patient will overdose and that should not be happening. Failure to connect emergency department overdose patients with treatment options should be considered malpractice.”

Volkow, well known as the main originator and proponent of the “addiction-is-a-brain-disease” hypothesis, is also a strong advocate of medication assisted therapy (MAT) for opioid addiction.

Buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone

MAT utilizes drugs such as buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone to replace the opioid of addiction – most often heroin and/or prescription opioids. Theoretically, while the addict continues with rehabilitative therapy such as counseling, he or she steps down off the replacement drug until drug-free. We say theoretically because all too often the MAT drugs continue indefinitely because counseling isn’t available or is simply skipped.

Volkow told the conference that MAT has shown some success in prison systems, and should be made more widely available. She cited as examples a MAT pilot program for opioid addicts in Rhode Island prisons and another in the U.K. prison system.

In Rhode Island, overdose deaths were reduced by 12 percent. And there was 60 percent decrease in mortalities among released prisoners during a one-year follow-up. The U.K. prison system experienced a 70 percent decrease in overdose fatalities, Volkow said.

HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C

The conference also discussed the spread of communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C among IV drug users who share needles. It’s a huge and expensive problem in states where shooting up dissolved prescription drugs and heroin is most prevalent.

Volkow said that the public health response to overdose and disease has not kept pace with the epidemic.

"We need to turn around the number of overdoses, and the only way that we are going to do it is by integrating all of our efforts,” she told the conference. “If we don't act, all of this is rhetorical and it doesn't go anywhere. We aren’t delivering the solutions fast enough. We need to do a bold initiative that shows that we can win."

If you are experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol, or want to help someone else who is in trouble, don’t hesitate to call Novus Medical Detox right away.

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