Importance Opioid-dependent patients often use the emergency department (ED) for medical care.
Objective To test the efficacy of 3 interventions for opioid dependence: (1) screening and referral to treatment (referral); (2) screening, brief intervention, and facilitated referral to community-based treatment services (brief intervention); and (3) screening, brief intervention, ED-initiated treatment with buprenorphine/naloxone, and referral to primary care for 10-week follow-up (buprenorphine).
Design, Setting, and Participants A randomized clinical trial involving 329 opioid-dependent patients who were treated at an urban teaching hospital ED from April 7, 2009, through June 25, 2013.
Interventions After screening, 104 patients were randomized to the referral group, 111 to the brief intervention group, and 114 to the buprenorphine treatment group.
Main Outcomes and Measures Enrollment in and receiving addiction treatment 30 days after randomization was the primary outcome. Self-reported days of illicit opioid use, urine testing for illicit opioids, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk, and use of addiction treatment services were the secondary outcomes.
Results Seventy-eight percent of patients in the buprenorphine group (89 of 114 [95% CI, 70%-85%]) vs 37% in the referral group (38 of 102 [95% CI, 28%-47%]) and 45% in the brief intervention group (50 of 111 [95% CI, 36%-54%]) were engaged in addiction treatment on the 30th day after randomization (P < .001). The buprenorphine group reduced the number of days of illicit opioid use per week from 5.4 days (95% CI, 5.1-5.7) to 0.9 days (95% CI, 0.5-1.3) vs a reduction from 5.4 days (95% CI, 5.1-5.7) to 2.3 days (95% CI, 1.7-3.0) in the referral group and from 5.6 days (95% CI, 5.3-5.9) to 2.4 days (95% CI, 1.8-3.0) in the brief intervention group (P < .001 for both time and intervention effects; P = .02 for the interaction effect). The rates of urine samples that tested negative for opioids did not differ statistically across groups, with 53.8% (95% CI, 42%-65%) in the referral group, 42.9% (95% CI, 31%-55%) in the brief intervention group, and 57.6% (95% CI, 47%-68%) in the buprenorphine group (P = .17). There were no statistically significant differences in HIV risk across groups (P = .66). Eleven percent of patients in the buprenorphine group (95% CI, 6%-19%) used inpatient addiction treatment services, whereas 37% in the referral group (95% CI, 27%-48%) and 35% in the brief intervention group (95% CI, 25%-37%) used inpatient addiction treatment services (P < .001).
Conclusions and Relevance Among opioid-dependent patients, ED-initiated buprenorphine treatment vs brief intervention and referral significantly increased engagement in addiction treatment, reduced self-reported illicit opioid use, and decreased use of inpatient addiction treatment services but did not significantly decrease the rates of urine samples that tested positive for opioids or of HIV risk. These findings require replication in other centers before widespread adoption.