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Some Rural California Hospitals Will Try To Prevent Overdoses With Opioid Treatment In The ER

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

More than 30 hospitals across California, many in rural areas, will soon be able to treat patients for opioid withdrawal on the spot.

The state chose the hospitals for a federally-funded program that trains doctors on medication-assisted treatment. It’s a way of easing opioid withdrawal symptoms by giving someone a less addictive painkiller.

Hospitals typically send patients experiencing withdrawal to rehab for this type of care. In rural areas it can be difficult to find placements, and someone might overdose in the meantime.

Somestudies show patients given addiction treatment immediately are more likely to follow through with getting clean than those who get referral information alone.

“They’re clear-headed, not craving, and I think that’s the reason we’ve had so much success in getting patients to treatment,” said Arianna Sampson, a physician assistant at the Marshall Medical Center in Placerville.

The state will distribute $8 million in federal funding to the 31 hospitals. Sampson’s hospital is using their grant on an emergency room navigator to help patients who’ve gotten the treatment find longer-term rehab. Other counties will use it to train doctors on medication-assisted treatment.

“Having a local program in rural communities is really a game changer,” Sampson says.

Some groups have raised concern about the use of buprenorphine, a drug commonly used in medication-assisted treatment, due to its potential for abuse. In California, public health experts largely support its use and have made multiple efforts to expand access to it. The state has another program providing buprenorphine to tribal communities.

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