County health officials consider immediate addiction treatment in ERs

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Growing numbers of opioid-related visits to the emergency room have doctors fighting an uphill battle.

“Addiction is a really complicated disease,” explained Dr. Michael Manka, who runs the Emergency Department at ECMC.

Because addiction is a complicated disease, finding a solution isn’t easy either.

Erie County’s Opioid Task Force is considering making ERs a first step toward medicine-based recovery, by giving patients who come into the ER for opioid related problems access to medicine like suboxone, which can help combat the need for opioids.

“It makes perfect sense. We know that many who are struggling with opioid addiction come to the emergency department either because they’re seeking treatment or because they have a complication of their opioid addiction. This is the perfect setting to start on the path to recovery,” explained Erie County Health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein.

Many players, including UBMD, UB, and ECMC, are considering the pros and cons of such a program.

Dr. Manka said this could potentially open the flood gates to patients seeking the medicine for the wrong reasons.

“Sometimes it’s very challenging to try and get into their head to try and understand what their real motivation for being here is,” he said.

Physicians would need specialized training to be able to hand out the medicine in the ER.

Some small studies indicate immediate access to drugs like suboxone have a positive influence on a patient’s likelihood of getting sober.

Dr. Burstein said if this pilot program is a go, it can’t work alone.

“If there’s nowhere to follow them up in the community, the project will not be successful,” she said.

A funding proposal for the program has been submitted. If it gets the necessary funds, it could roll out in the next 4 to 6 months.

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