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April 30, 2021

Addiction Treatment When It’s Needed Most: Emergency medicine physician leads life-saving program at IU Health West Hospital

IU Health West Hospital

Addiction Treatment When It’s Needed Most: Emergency medicine physician leads life-saving program at IU Health West Hospital

For individuals with opioid addiction and at risk of repeat overdoses, IU Health West Hospital has a new program designed to prevent death and long-term injury from opioid overdose.

By Thi Pham, Communications Intern, IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region, tpham5@iuhealth.org

The program is packaged in the form of naloxone, a drug that quickly reverses an opioid overdose. The hospital received a $15,000 grant from the IU Health Foundation to provide naloxone kits to high-risk patients who are seen and treated in the Emergency Department. In addition to having a better chance of survival when naloxone is readily available, these patients are more likely to participate in a longer-term recovery program. Providing these kits to patients help them learn how to effectively manage their addiction.

Dr. Jessica Knopp, emergency medicine physician and the medical director of the Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center at IU Health West Hospital, is part of the task force that facilitates the naloxone distribution plan.

“We know that naloxone is a safe and effective antidote for opioid overdose,” Dr. Knopp said. “Its effectiveness in preventing organ damage and death to the overdosing patient is highly dependent on how quickly it’s given. The goal of this program is to get this antidote into the hands of the people at highest risk for overdose, and their social circles, to prevent death and long-term injury from an opioid overdose.”

Each kit includes the naloxone drug, syringes and needles, a nasal adapter for the syringes and separate nasal spray devices.

“Any patient seen in the ER who is determined to be at high risk for opioid overdose will be offered a kit,” Dr. Knopp explained. “These may be patients that we’re seeing for an overdose already, those in acute withdrawal, or those who have the potential for dangerous misuse of opioids. This is not at all limited to those abusing illicit opioids, such as heroin. About 50 percent of the opioid overdoses seen in the ER involve a prescription drug product as well.”

Dr. Knopp understands that this is just one step in addressing and treating addiction as a multifaceted disorder.

“The goal of this program is to get a naloxone kit into the hands of our patients at highest risk for overdose and open a non-judgmental dialogue about treatment options,” she said. “The medical community is beginning to better understand addiction as a neurochemical disorder that requires an integrated treatment approach. However, there remains a huge social stigma against patients with addiction that can be a huge barrier to care delivery.”

During IU Health’s 2018 community health needs assessment, substance use disorder (SUD) was identified as a community priority health need. Before the COVID-19 epidemic, nearly one in 12 Indiana residents suffered from SUD. Since the pandemic’s arrival, that number continues to climb. A recent Indiana University study found that two in three Hoosiers know someone battling addiction. In 2020, IU Health saw a 23% increase in patients experiencing SUD.

“It’s been proven in numerous studies that access to naloxone prevents death and does not increase rates of opioid abuse,” Dr. Knopp added. “It’s important that we in the medical community lead the way in abolishing the stigma of substance use as a moral failing and recognize it for the complex medical issue that it is.”

In addition to reducing the number of opioid prescriptions and providing virtual peer recovery coaches in emergency departments, the naloxone distribution program at IU Health West Hospital is another example of how IU Health has continued to find ways to make a positive community impact.

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