UAB launches opioid overdose program

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) – The UAB Department of Emergency  Medicine is launching a new program to treat opioid overdose patients who come through the emergency room.

The new initiative called the ED MAT, or Medication Assisted Treatment Protocol, works to help patients with opioid use disorders get appropriate therapy and referral for further assistance. UAB hopes to help stop the opioid epidemic. The program is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama leads the nation in opioid prescriptions. Jefferson County saw 98 deaths from heroin and 104 from fentanyl use in 2017.

“We start by recognizing that all of us are at risk of addiction. Certain individuals are not any more or less worthy,” said Erik Hess, M. D., vice chair for research for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Emergency Medicine. “We all are at risk for it. Openly providing treatment and recognizing that if you opioid use disorder, we accept you and we’re here to help you. And now we’re systematizing a way to do so, and we’re joining hands with our community partners in order to do so.”

Program partners include UAB Center for AIDS Research, and the Jefferson County Department of Public Health

The Jefferson County Department of Public Health established the Recovery Resource Center at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services. Patients will be assessed there for the severity of their addiction and determine what treatment is required. Patients will then be referred to appropriate treatment centers including the UAB Addiction Recovery Programs and others. 

Part of the program includes prescribing a drug called Buprenorphine/naloxone, or Suboxone, to patients wishing to seek outpatient treatment services. Suboxone is used to treat withdrawal symptoms in opioid use disorder for 24 hours. 

“Medicine is not the end all be all, said Hess. “But it really helps patients get to the point where they can fully engage in treatment.”

Hess says all emergency staff have committed to undergoing the training required to prescribe Suboxone for outpatient services. 

The program also includes working with a peer navigator to help with recovery. A peer navigator is someone who has already been through the health care system successfully in the treatment of opioid use disorder. The peer navigator will help the patient navigate the healthcare system and find other resources they may need.

“We hope to lead the way in providing this passionate care, regardless of how difficult it can be to care for patients when they’re experiencing addiction,” said Hess.

To learn more about the opioid overdose program, click here.

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