Emergency department-initiated buprenorphine protocols: A national evaluation

OBJECTIVE: Emergency department-initiated buprenorphine (BUP) for opioid use disorder is an evidence-based practice, but limited data exist on BUP initiation practices in real-world settings. We sought to characterize protocols for BUP initiation among a geographically diverse sample of emergency departments (EDs).

METHODS: In December 2020, we reviewed prestudy clinical BUP initiation protocols from all EDs participating in CTN0099 Emergency Department-INitiated bupreNOrphine VAlidaTION (ED-INNOVATION). We abstracted information on processes for identification of treatment-eligible patients, BUP administration, and discharge care.

RESULTS: All participating ED-INNOVATION sites across 22 states submitted protocols; 31 protocols were analyzed. Identification of treatment-eligible patients: Most EDs 22 (71%) relied on clinician judgment to determine appropriateness of BUP treatment with only 7 (23%) requiring decision support tools or diagnosis checklists. Before BUP initiation, 27 (87%) protocols required a documented Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) score; 4 (13%) required a clinical diagnosis of withdrawal with optional COWS score. Twenty-seven (87%) recommended a minimum COWS score of 8 for ED-initiated BUP. BUP administration: Initial BUP dose ranged from 2-16 mg (mode = 4). For continued withdrawal symptoms, 27 (87%) protocols recommended an interval of 30-60 minutes between first and second BUP dose. Total BUP dose in the ED ranged from 8 to 32 mg. Discharge care: Twenty-eight (90%) protocols recommended a BUP prescription (mode 16 mg daily) at discharge. Naloxone prescription and/or provision was suggested in 23 (74%) protocols.

CONCLUSIONS: In this geographically diverse sample of EDs, protocols for ED-initiated BUP differed between sites. Future work should evaluate the association between this variation and patient outcomes.

Download PDF

Full citation:
Guo CZ, D'Onofrio G, Fiellin DA, Edelman EJ, Hawk K, Herring A, McCormack R, Perrone J, Cowan E (2021).
Emergency department-initiated buprenorphine protocols: A national evaluation
Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians Open, 2 (6), e12606. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12606. PMCID: PMC8630357.