UVM Medical Center studying effectiveness of opioid treatment in ER

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) We're diving deeper into a fix for opioid addiction-- starting at the moments of crisis.

We told you a couple weeks ago how the Central Vermont Medical Center is seeing promising results from a pilot program to get patients rapid access to medication-assisted treatment or MAT when they come into the emergency room with something like an overdose. The hospital found that of the 40 people who have taken advantage of the program since July, 85 percent followed up with treatment.

Now, Vermont's largest hospital is also getting patients medications like buprenorphine when they come into the ER. Doctors at the University of Vermont Medical Center told our Cat Viglienzoni that while anecdotally, from places like Central Vermont Medical Center, we've heard these programs work, there's very little research on the subject to prove it and convince other hospitals it's worth the investment. So that's exactly what the UVM Medical Center wants to do.

If you land in the UVM Medical Center from an overdose or another drug-related issue, you'll be offered a kit. In it is enough buprenorphine to get an interested patient to a follow-up appointment for long-term drug treatment within 72 hours.

"We know that folks get started on buprenorphine, they stop dying and they can get their lives back," Dr. Daniel Wolfson said.

An emergency medicine doctor, Wolfson says he's passionate about treating addiction like any other disease and getting people the help they need right in the ER to hopefully avoid this:

"Seeing people who would come into our emergency department, we would save them, and then the very next day they'd go out and overdose again," Wolfson said.

Now, his department is embarking on a study with two goals: to prove they can get people enrolled and opioid treatment medication into their hands, and that it works.

"We follow up with them at a week, three months and six months to see how they're doing and if they're still in treatment," Wolfson explained.

Wolfson expects they will see success with the program similar to what Central Vermont Medical Center has already noticed. It's being paid for by a $1.5 million grant from the federal government. They chose the ER because they can catch people when they need help the most.

"It's five, 10, 15 minutes. You're looking at a very small window where a person who is actually working through the stages of change is at that point of action," said Cam Lauf, a Peer Recovery Coaching Program supervisor.

Lauf is a peer recovery coach at Turning Point who works with ER doctors to talk to patients struggling with addiction. He knows what they've been through and says he's thrilled to see the medical center breaking down barriers to treatment.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What would your experience have been like if you had something like a MAT drug available to you when you hit the ER?
Cam Lauf: I don't know, it's hypothetical, but... having that drug available, knowing that I wouldn't go through withdrawals, that I could engage in treatment, that my life could get better immediately-- I think I would have chosen it.

Wolfson says over the next several months, they're going to be getting this program online at all of the network hospitals. The federal funding will pay for it for three years.