Treating Opioid Use Disorder in the Emergency Room

A patient lies on a stretcher with emergency medical professionals surrounding her to help.

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Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a complex problem that may lead people to seek medical help. Treating OUD may involve different kinds of health care professionals. 

Emergency room (ER) doctors can help people with OUD.

  • That’s because an ER doctor is usually the first doctor a patient sees when they’re rushed to the hospital during or after an overdose.
  • In the ER, doctors can reverse an overdose with naloxone and revive the patient.

ER doctors can also help people with OUD by addressing the longer-term problem of addiction.

  • After a patient is out of danger, an ER doctor can use special counseling techniques to help them understand the risks of drug misuse, and refer them to other health care providers to address the OUD.
  • ER doctors can also provide the first dose of a medicine called buprenorphine. (Buprenorphine is commonly known by the brand name Suboxone when it’s mixed with naloxone to prevent overdose deaths.) Because addiction is a chronic (long-term) disease, like diabetes or asthma, it requires treatment over a period of time. Many people with OUD get better with the help of buprenorphine, but it may take months or years of using the medication. 

When buprenorphine is used under the care of health professionals, it’s effective at helping people recover from OUD.

  • Buprenorphine decreases a person's withdrawal symptoms and craving for the drug.
  • Research also shows that patients who receive buprenorphine are less likely to overdose, die, and use illicit (illegal) opioids.
  • And when someone starts buprenorphine in the ER, they’re more likely to stay in long-term treatment for OUD. This is all good news! 

Learn more: How to safely dispose of (throw away) opioids.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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