WEDNESDAY, Dec. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) — People trying to kick addiction to heroin or prescription painkillers often wait weeks or months before they can get into a treatment facility, putting them at continued risk for a fatal overdose.
Now, two innovative programs attempt to get addicts the help they need as quickly as possible.
Police in Gloucester, Mass., created an “Angel Program” that encourages opioid addicts to come to the department, with no threat of arrest, so officers can get them placed in local treatment programs immediately.
Meanwhile, researchers in Vermont started prescribing the anti-addiction drug buprenorphine to people placed on a waitlist at a treatment clinic, to try to tide them over.
Both programs reported promising results in the Dec. 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Gloucester police got about 95 percent of people who came to the department with a substance abuse disorder into a detoxification or treatment program during the first year of the initiative, researchers reported.
“The police are persistent,” said senior researcher David Rosenbloom, a professor of health law, management and policy at the Boston University School of Public Health. “They are going to do everything they can to avoid having that person walk out the door and use and perhaps fatally overdose.”
In Vermont, providing early access to buprenorphine helped people stay off drugs and also reduced psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which come with fighting addiction, researchers said.
“If you just give them some medication that eradicates their illicit drug use and criminal activity, then you may see some pretty impressive psychological benefits from giving them treatment they want but can’t access,” said lead researcher Stacey Sigmon. She’s a research associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Vermont.
The United States is in the grip of an “epidemic” of opioid addiction, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose.
Stricter regulation has reduced access to prescription painkilling opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin), sending addicts to the street to purchase heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The death rate from fentanyl overdose doubled between 2013 and 2014, the CDC said, while heroin caused nearly one out of every four overdose deaths in 2014.
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