Sites announced for Bridge Program opioid treatment grants

The non-profit Public Health Institute (PHI) announced the selection of participants in the California Bridge Program earlier this month. The program will provide over $8 million for training and technical assistance aimed at improving and encouraging access to treatment for people experiencing symptoms of substance use disorder who present in the Emergency Department.

The program focuses on emergency rooms and acute care hospitals as a critical window for connecting patients to treatment. When patients in opioid withdrawal seek acute or emergency care, including for reasons not related to opioid use, they will be offered a dose of medication such as buprenorphine to ease severe symptoms of withdrawal and will be connected with community outpatient treatment.

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The 18-month training program aims to ensure that any interaction a patient has with the healthcare system can be a potential opportunity to enter into treatment. It approaches substance use disorder as a treatable chronic illness rather than a stigma and encourages an environment that welcomes disclosure of opioid use, provides rapid evidence-based treatment, and supports patients entering and remaining in treatment.

UC San Diego Health is among the 31 health facilities selected for the program. According to County of San Diego records, there were more than 7000 emergency room visits and nearly 450 deaths linked to opioid used in the county in 2017. UC San Diego Health emergency room physician Daniel Lasoff, MD explains in a statement,

“Historically, we could only treat the symptoms of withdrawal or overdose when patients with opioid use disorder presented. We did not have the resources or medications necessary to prevent patients from going out, using again and coming back to the emergency department with an overdose.”

Studies show that initiating treatment and providing medication designed for addiction treatment make it more likely patients remaining in care and produce better long-term outcomes than those provided referral information alone.

“There are many barriers preventing patients with substance use disorders from following through on making the connection to substance use treatment programs, but starting them on medication that has such a big impact on their symptoms in such a short time dramatically improves their likelihood of continuing care with this life-saving medication. Buprenorphine not only helps prevent relapse to opioid use, but also protects against opioid overdose,” said Carla Marienfeld, MD, psychiatrist and director of the Addiction Recovery and Treatment Program at UC San Diego Health.

A complete list of California Bridge Program awardees can be found here.