Collaboration Fuels New Solutions in Fight against Opioid Overdose Crisis

Physician-led program leads to better connection to treatment, decrease in overdose cases

In the mid-2010s as the opioid crisis was beginning to take hold and opioid overdose deaths were climbing, most emergency rooms treated overdose patients as they always had: stabilize the patient and discharge them with some phone numbers where they might seek help. There was no follow up and the patient was left to fend for him or herself in battling a gripping addiction. Each emergency room followed its own protocols including who might be able to receive medically assisted treatment (MAT), how the uninsured were handled, and what type of referrals they provided to their patients. The disjointed system was clearly not working as the crisis worsened and deaths increased.

Along with many others in the community, Paul Hogan, Oishei Executive Vice President was taking notice and he wanted to use the Foundation’s resources towards making a difference. Paul began talking with Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein as well as with colleagues at the University at Buffalo (UB) and several health providers to learn more and see what could be done to address the growing issue. Recognizing the severity of the crisis, The John R. Oishei Foundation stood ready to fund possible solutions.

Joshua Lynch with UB’s Emergency Department and Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy, also from UB, recommended a training program for emergency room doctors in the use of buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction (also known under the brand name of Suboxone) to lessen a patient’s suffering while they waited to be seen at a treatment clinic. At the same time, emergency room patients at participating hospitals would be linked to one of three treatment centers who agreed to set aside appointments so that the emergency room patients could be seen within 48 hours. The Foundation supported the collaborative program, called Buffalo MATTERS with a grant totaling $193,000 to the Research Foundation of State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) to implement it in the hopes that it could make a difference.

According to Hogan, “As the crisis worsened, it became clear that helping the patient needed to go beyond one touch point in the emergency room. A more collaborative approach between doctors, emergency rooms, treatment centers, insurers, and the County Health Department made sense and gave us the ability to look at the entire patient experience and how we could more effectively connect them with long term treatment.”

The physician-led collaborative approach was enthusiastically adopted and then expanded significantly to include120 emergency providers from 13 hospitals, 39 clinics and 21 pharmacies across the region. More importantly, it is having an impact as Erie County’s overdose fatalities have fallen to a four year low, to nearly a third of what they were when the overdose rate was close to one a day in 2016. The program has become a model for other communities as well as Buffalo MATTERS leaders have shared their learning and expertise with state leaders and hope to expand it across New York State.