APPLE VALLEY, Calif. — Patients battling opioid use disorder or who have overdosed are now receiving a new kind of treatment at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.
Through a $175,000 grant St. Mary is now participating in the California Bridge Program that is designed to enhance access to around-the-clock treatment for substance use disorders and help patients to enter and remain in treatment.
Rather than discourage these patients – as many as 15 a week – the emergency department staff treats them as they would any other patient with an illness, with medication and a treatment plan designed as a bridge to rehabilitation.
“If we drive them away, we don’t help them. They go to the needle, to heroin, fentanyl and the other synthetics. And they can overdose and even die,” said Michael Sequiera, M.D., an emergency physician who leads the program. “We want to reverse that. We can reduce harm, and treatment success does not require breaking the habit.”
A key part of treatment is Buprenorphine, an opioid but one that latches onto the body’s opioid receptors to help ease the harsh symptoms of withdrawal. While “bupe” provides some of the effects of opioids, it’s difficult to overdose. Studies show remarkable results.
“By suppressing withdrawal long enough to create a bridge for patients to enter and remain in treatment, physicians can save lives,” said Andrew Herring, M.D., director of emergency department services for the Bridge program. “We know this model works, and now we are bringing it to hospitals and emergency rooms all across the state that are anxious for real solutions to address the enormous pain and suffering they see every day caused by the opioid epidemic.”
St. Mary is one of 311 hospitals and treatment centers across the state selected to participate in the California Bridge Program, an accelerated training program for healthcare providers, facilitated by the Public Health Institute. The medical center received $175,000 from the state Department of Health Care Services to hire a navigator for patients and to train the staff in a new philosophy of treating addicts. The Bridge program is funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration state-targeted response to the opioid crisis.
Dr. Sequiera estimates the St. Mary emergency department cares for five to 15 opioid addicts a week. This includes people with chronic pain, behavioral disorders, some who are pregnant and others in the throes of withdrawal.