New data indicates MGH addiction consult teams are helping patients with substance use disorders reduce the severity of their addictions and maintain sobriety.

Massachusetts General Hospital’s initiative to identify and treat substance use disorders (SUD) is making a difference in the lives of those it is designed to help, according to preliminary results from an ongoing Mass General study.

Patients who were seen by special Mass General addiction consult team (ACT) during their hospitalizations experienced a decline in the severity of their addiction.

The early data shows that, during the 30 days after their discharges, patients who were seen by a special Mass General addiction consult team (ACT) during their hospitalizations experienced a decline in the severity of their addiction. For instance, the number of days the ACT patients abstained from substance use after discharge increased by about 13 days. That compared to about five days for those not seen by the consult team. During the post-discharge period, the patients seen by ACT were also less likely to report using the emergency room care or inpatient hospital for substance-related reasons.

The data involved the 229 patients with identifiable SUD issues. It compared results for those who were seen by the team and those who were not. Researchers gathered it as part of an ongoing study. The study will measure the SUD initiative’s impact on more patients over a longer period.

Addiction Concerns Nationwide

Amid growing concern about the nation’s opioid epidemic, such findings “give people hope that you can get better,” said Sarah Wakeman, MD, medical director of Mass General’s Substance Use Disorders Initiative. She added that the results are also important because caregivers nationwide are eager to learn more about how SUD care can be best provided in a hospital setting.

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Read more: MGH Initiative Aims for Addiction Treatment and Prevention

Researchers estimate about 23 million Americans have a substance use disorder, but only about 10% of them receive treatment annually. An estimated 22% of hospitalized patients have active drug or alcohol use disorders. Although hospitals have long treated medical conditions arising from substance use disorders, they have been less successful in identifying and treating the addictions themselves.

John F. Kelly, PhD, director of the Recovery Research Institute at Mass General, said the inadequate job hospitals have done in detecting and addressing substance use disorders has resulted in poorer medical outcomes and higher medical costs. “These post-discharge data are very encouraging and signify a critically important change in improving the quality of our medical care overall,” said Dr. Kelly, who is also the Elizabeth R. Spallin Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Addiction Consult Team is Key

The addiction consult team is a cornerstone of the SUD initiative that Mass General launched in 2014. Internists, addiction psychiatrists, social workers and nursing leaders make up the team. It springs into action when a patient with a substance use disorder is identified in the hospital through screening. The team evaluates the patient and recommends related treatment and community services.

Earlier this year, Mass General’s initiative was cited as a major reason for awarding the hospital the prestigious Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service.

The high-priority initiative builds upon years of prevention efforts at Mass General community health centers in Chelsea, Revere and Charlestown. It also includes a bridge clinic to provide medical and psychiatric care to former patients before they get into treatment, as well as recovery coaches to support and motivate patients over the long term.

In addition, Mass General has introduced new and safer policies for prescribing opioids. It also is enhancing treatment at its community health centers and conducting ongoing research and evaluation of the effort’s results.

Earlier this year, Mass General’s initiative was cited as a major reason for awarding the hospital the prestigious Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service. The McGaw prize committee praised the initiative for reflecting Mass General’s “broad-based efforts to partner with underserved local communities to improve health.”

To learn more about how you can support Mass General’s efforts to identify and treat addiction, please contact us.