Doctors at Virginia Commonwealth University are doing a study that could save lives by changing the way people with opioid addiction are treated.
Last year, more than 10,000 people were taken to an emergency room after overdosing on the opium-based drug fentanyl or on heroin. They were treated with a medication that saved their lives but put them into a state of withdrawal from a powerfully addictive drug according to Dr. Gerard Moeller, a national expert at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"That withdrawal is very unpleasant," he explains. "It’s basically like a bad case of the flu."
In the emergency department at VCU, hundreds of these patients were given information on an outpatient program to help them kick their drug habit, but Moeller says very few followed through, perhaps because they felt so bad. All they wanted was another dose of the prescription medication or heroin that sent them to the hospital in the first place.
"Our data so far shows that about one in twenty patients who have survived an opioid overdose are dead or have a repeat overdose within six months."
To break that cycle, VCU will launch a study in December – treating patients for withdrawal in the emergency room. Moeller says that should leave them feeling well enough to start drug treatment.