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MDI Hospital Emergency Room Now Offers Opioid Treatment on Demand

BAR HARBOR—As part of an increased effort to treat opioid addiction, Mount Desert Island Hospital is now offering buprenorphine induction for patients in withdrawal in its Emergency Room. Last year, there were 354 deaths due to drug overdose in Maine alone, with more than 68,000 deaths reported nationally.

“We want to be sure that we are doing everything that we can to combat this public health crisis,” says Dr. Nathan Donaldson, MDI Hospital’s emergency medical director. By administering the first dose of withdrawal medication when the need is identified, the hospital is able to stabilize patients earlier and fill a much-needed gap in opioid treatment.

On demand, first dose treatment is evidence-based, says Dr. Donaldson. This early intervention in the emergency room is followed by engagement with behavioral health professionals and area treatment centers. The hope is that by alleviating withdrawal symptoms earlier, patients have a better chance of participating in longer-term therapy solutions.

The hospital is one of only a handful in the state to offer an emergent Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) program. “Essentially, we are offering buprenorphine induction in the ER to patients with substance use disorder and trying to get them to a recovery program offering MAT with a warm handoff and a soft landing,” explains Dr. Donaldson. Buprenorphine, also known as Subutex, is similar to Suboxone, which contains both buprenorphine and naloxone.

Dr. Donaldson credits Gov. Janet Mills and Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith with raising awareness around the need for on demand opioid treatment and Mid Coast Hospital for leading the way with their emergency MAT program. “On demand opioid treatment works. Hopefully, every ER in Maine will have this available eventually,” he says.

When a patient is ready to pursue longer-term addiction treatment, MDI Hospital’s emergency room works closely with the Downeast Treatment Center and other area providers to continue their recovery through an integrated “hub and spoke” addiction treatment network.

The network was established through a collaborative partnership that includes Aroostook Mental Health Center – AMHC, Bucksport Regional Health Center, Healthy Acadia, MDI Hospital, Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital, Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital, local private primary care and substance treatment providers and others who serve as part of the network’s system of “spokes.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and needs help, call the Downeast Treatment Center at 207-667-6890. If your need is emergent, visit your local emergency room.

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