WESTMINSTER — A leader in addiction medicine told the Worcester County Opioid Task Force Thursday that starting treatment the moment a person with substance abuse disorder enters an emergency room improves their chances for long-term recovery.
“What we’re trying to do is keep care where patients are already; Historically with traditional addiction treatment care it has been outside the medical community,” said Dr. Laura Kehoe. “Really what this is is patient-centered care … that’s respectful and responsive.”
Kehoe, a primary care physician and medical director at Massachusetts General Hospital, oversees the Bridge Clinic, the hospital’s transitional outpatient addiction treatment program.
She spoke to first responders, clinicians and community members who are part of Worcester Country District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr’s Opioid Task Force at the Recovery Centers of America .Mass General’s emergency department was the first in the country to have all doctors waived to administer buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction, she said.
Genetics account for between 40 to 60 percent of the a person’s predisposition to addiction, said Kehoe, and medication-assisted treatment greatly increases chances of long-term recovery, said Kehoe.
Still, only 50 percent of addiction treatment centers offer patients medication, and of those that do, only 40 percent of patients are prescribed them, she said.
“(Patients) feel normal, they function and they can get their lives back, and if it takes this medication to do that, why does anybody really care, right?” she said.
With an approach she described as “start medicine now, figure it out later,” 600 addiction patients have gone to Mass General for 75,000 visits, and half of those visits are walk-ins.
Patients at the Bridge Clinic have access to recovery coaches, psychiatrists and other specialists before receiving assistance finding long-term care in their community.
Ernest Martineau, a member of the opioid task force and chief of police in Fitchburg, said his officers transport people whose substance use disorder is causing them personal harm to area hospitals each day.
But when they get there, patients often do not meet criteria for being held involuntarily through a Section 12 order.
“Within 5 minutes, that person who was taken off the street because they’re a threat to themselves is being released back into the community,” he said. “We’re trying to do the best we can on the street, but we’re not getting the same commitment once they get in a hospital.”
Kehoe said establishing a local Bridge program to provide access to treatment in a medical setting could help.
“It’s not the answer. What they need is treatment,” she said.