Easing regulatory restrictions due to Covid-19 may provide solutions
An opioid overdose is significantly more than an isolated event. Patients who present to the emergency department (ED) with overdose have a 6 percent risk of dying in the following year. As with other high-risk acute conditions, we expect patients who survive overdose to receive evidence-based treatment after leaving the hospital. Whether the overdose was due to prescription opioids or injection drugs, the first occurrence or recurrent, in people with diagnosed opioid use disorder (OUD) or not – we know that timely follow-up care can save lives. But our recent national study showed that just 16% of privately insured patients obtain that essential care.
We reviewed commercial insurance claims for about 6,500 patients who presented to the ED with opioid overdose between 2011 and 2016. Only 1 in 6 obtained follow-up treatment in the 90 days after the overdose – including medication treatment, outpatient clinic visits, or rehabilitation services. For the majority of patients who had not previously received treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), only 1 in 10 obtained follow-up.
As shown, we found a striking racial disparity as well: black patients were half as likely to access treatment as non-Hispanic white patients.
Our study amplifies the critical question facing policymakers, providers, and patients – how do we increase access to OUD treatment, particularly for patients during the vulnerable time after an overdose?