From the Journals

Short-acting opioids needed for withdrawal in U.S. hospitals, say experts



Barriers to short-acting opioid use

Despite use of short-acting opioids internationally, barriers in the United States include limited prospective, randomized, controlled research on their benefits. There is limited institutional support for such approaches, and concerns and stigma around providing opioids to patients with OUD.

“[M]any institutions have insufficient numbers of providers who are both confident and competent with standard buprenorphine and methadone initiation approaches, a prerequisite before adopting more complex regimens,” the authors wrote.

Short-acting, full-agonist opioids, as a complement to methadone or buprenorphine, is already recommended for inpatients with OUD who are experiencing acute pain.

But the authors argue it should be an option when pain is not present, but methadone or buprenorphine have not provided enough OWS relief.

When short-acting opioids are helpful, according to outside expert

Dr. Poorman agrees and says she has found short-acting opioids simple to use in the hospital and very helpful in two situations.

One is when patients are very clear that they don’t want any medication for opioid use disorder, but they do want to be treated for their acute medical issue.

“I thought that was a fantastic tool to have to demonstrate we’re listening to them and weren’t trying to impose something on them and left the door open to come back when they did want treatment, which many of them did,” Dr. Poorman said.

The second situation is when the patient is uncertain about options but very afraid of precipitated withdrawal from buprenorphine.

She said she then found it easy to switch from those medications to buprenorphine and methadone.

Dr. Poorman described a situation she encountered previously where the patient was injecting heroin several times a day for 30-40 years. He was very clear he wasn’t going to stop injecting heroin, but he needed medical attention. He was willing to get medical attention, but he told his doctor he didn’t want to be uncomfortable while in the hospital.

It was very hard for his doctor to accept relieving his symptoms of withdrawal as part of her job, because she felt as though she was condoning his drug use, Dr. Poorman explained.

But Dr. Poorman said it’s not realistic to think that someone who clearly does not want to stop using is going to stop using because a doctor made that person go through painful withdrawal “that they’ve structured their whole life around avoiding.”

Take-home message

“We need to understand that addiction is very complex. A lot of times people come to us distressed, and it’s a great time to engage them in care but engaging them in care doesn’t mean imposing discomfort or pain on them,” Dr. Poorman noted. Instead, it means “listening to them, helping them be comfortable in a really stressful situation and then letting them know we are always there for them wherever they are on their disease process or recovery journey so that they can come back to us.”

Dr. Wakeman previously served on clinical advisory board for Celero Systems and receives textbook royalties from Springer and author payment from UpToDate. Dr. Kleinman and Dr. Poorman declared no relevant financial relationships.


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