Hospitals Can Help Addicts, But Usually Don’t

Providers tend to focus on the health problem before them, and usually don’t address the underlying addiction that caused it.

Stephanie McCurry, a 33-year-old Air Force veteran, was admitted to Dell Seton Medical Center with bacterial pneumonia and endocarditis, along with heart and bloodstream infections. These problems resulted from the fact that McCurry had been addicted to heroin for about five years.

All too often, hospitals treat the physical problems, but rarely address substance abuse issues, argue Christopher Moriates, MD, and Richard Bottner a physician assistant, who are faculty members at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.

That needs to change, they write in an opinion piece in Stat, and McCurry’s case may offer some guidance on how. McCurry lucked out, finding herself in the hands of the hospital’s B-Team, a group that includes social workers, nurses, pharmacists, internists, psychiatrists, and chaplains.  

Moriates and Bottner write: “It works like this: A patient with an existing opioid use disorder who is admitted to an inpatient medical floor for treatment of a medical condition is evaluated by the inpatient care team, which then consults the B-Team for assessment and treatment…. The social worker arranges appropriate outpatient appointments, the chaplain address the patients’ spiritual needs, and pharmacists secure access to buprenorphine.”

The crucial aspect is giving patients access to buprenorphine but, again, that often doesn’t happen in hospitals.