Expanding low-threshold buprenorphine to justice-involved individuals through mobile treatment: Addressing a critical care gap

BACKGROUND: Opioid use disorder (OUD) is highly prevalent among justice-involved individuals. While risk for overdose and other adverse consequences of opioid use are heightened among this population, most justice-involved individuals and other high-risk groups experience multiple barriers to engagement in opioid agonist treatment.

METHODS: This paper describes the development of Project Connections at Re-Entry (PCARE), a low-threshold buprenorphine treatment program that engages vulnerable patients in care through a mobile van parked directly outside the Baltimore City Jail. Patients are referred by jail staff or can walk in from the street. The clinical team includes an experienced primary care physician who prescribes buprenorphine, a nurse, and a peer recovery coach. The team initiates treatment for those with OUD and refers those with other needs to appropriate providers. Once stabilized, patients are transitioned to longer-term treatment programs or primary care for buprenorphine maintenance. This paper describes the process of developing this program, patient characteristics and initial outcomes for the first year of the program, and implications for public health practice.

RESULTS: From November 15, 2017 through November 30, 2018, 220 people inquired about treatment services and completed an intake interview, and 190 began treatment with a buprenorphine/naloxone prescription. Those who initiated buprenorphine were primarily male (80.1%), African American (85.1%), had a mean age of 44.1 (SD=12.2), and a mean of 24.0 (SD=13.6) years of opioid use. The majority of patients (94.4%) had previous criminal justice involvement, were unemployed (72.9%) and were unstably housed (70.8%). Over a third (32.1%) of patients had previously overdosed. Of those who began treatment, 67.9% returned for a second visit or more, and 31.6% percent were still involved in treatment after 30 days. Of those who initiated care, 20.5% have been transferred to continue buprenorphine treatment at a partnering site.

CONCLUSIONS: The PCARE program illustrates the potential for low-threshold buprenorphine treatment to engage populations who are justice-involved and largely disconnected from care. While more work is needed to improve treatment retention among vulnerable patients and engaging persons in care directly after release from detention, offering on-demand, flexible and de-stigmatizing treatment may serve as a first point to connect high-risk populations with the healthcare system and interventions that reduce risk for overdose and related harms.

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Full citation:
Krawczyk N, Buresh M, Gordon MS, Blue TR, Fingerhood MI, Agus D (2019).
Expanding low-threshold buprenorphine to justice-involved individuals through mobile treatment: Addressing a critical care gap
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 103, 1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2019.05.002. PMCID: PMC6612429.