Treating Addiction During and After Hospitalization Reduces Relapse, Study Says

Sometimes the simple act of 'showing the way' can produce surprising results.

The simple act of recommending post-hospital addiction treatment and helping to facilitate that recommendation reduces relapses in opiate addicts, according to a new study by Boston Medical Center (BMC) researchers.

BMC researchers conducted the study, published in JAMA – Internal Medicine, which looked at the role providers play in a patient’s addiction treatment both in the hospital and after being released—even if their primary reason for being in the hospital is not for their addiction.

The results of the study show that starting hospitalized patients who have an opioid (heroin) addiction on buprenorphine treatment in the hospital and then “seamlessly connecting them with an outpatient office based treatment program” can greatly reduce whether or not they relapse after they are discharged.

This is how the study worked:

139 hospitalized individuals with opioid addiction who were not already in treatment were randomized into two groups. One group received a tapered dose treatment of buprenorphine for withdrawal and referral information about community treatment programs and the other were initiated on buprenorphine, an opioid substitute proven to treat opioid addiction, along with referral to a primary care office-based buprenorphine treatment program. Buprenorphine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 for the treatment of opioid addiction, is taken orally and helps to curb opioid withdrawal symptoms.

According to the study, more than one third (37 percent) of the patients in the buprenorphine maintenance group reported no illicit opioid or drug use for the month after they left the hospital compared to less than one in ten (nine percent) in the control group.

The study also notes that patients in the maintenance group also reported fewer days of illicit drug use during the next six months. “This effect was evident despite the fact that these patients did not initially come to the hospital seeking treatment for their addiction,” the researchers wrote.

“Unfortunately, referral to substance abuse treatment after discharge is often a secondary concern of physicians caring for hospitalized patients,” said study author Jane Liebschutz, a physician in general internal medicine at BMC and associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “However, our results show that we can have a marked impact on patient’s addiction by addressing it during their hospitalization.”