Necessity is said to be the mother of invention—and there is perhaps no more urgent need in today’s health care system than treatments for opioid use disorder. For years, the only solutions for patients have been developed largely outside the medical system, leaving emergency department (ED) doctors with little to offer patients presenting with the hallmarks of addiction: overdoses, withdrawal pains, infections—or the simple desire to recover. That is changing, thanks to a group of dedicated Partners HealthCare physicians committed to solving the opioid crisis one patient at a time.
After discharging an addicted patient from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) ED during his first year of residency, Alister Martin, MD, was dismayed at the lack of treatment options he could offer her. “We’re in the middle of an opioid crisis,” he recalled thinking, “and we’re kicking people out of the emergency room.” The moment was a watershed for Dr. Martin, who consulted with Sarah Wakeman, MD, Medical Director of MGH’s Substance Use Disorder Initiative about how to raise awareness.
He learned that the hospital’s Bridge Clinic was able to start patients on medical treatment for addiction—a critical intervention, but one that could begin sooner if more ED physicians were certified to prescribe it. And so began Dr. Martin’s “Get Waivered” campaign, designed to raise awareness, spur action, and connect more addicted patients with the care they need. The campaign, and Dr. Martin’s continued efforts to apply behavioral science to addiction treatment, have helped “move MGH to the vanguard of a new approach to addiction: Instead of sending addicted people on their way, the hospital can start treatment right in the ED,” according to The Boston Globe.
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