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Initiation of opioid agonist therapy after hospital visits for opioid poisonings in Ontario


Background — Emergency department visits and hospital admissions for opioid toxicity are opportunities to initiate opioid agonist therapy (OAT), which reduces morbidity and mortality in patients with opioid use disorder (OUD). The study objectives were to evaluate OAT initiation rates after a hospital encounter for opioid toxicity in Ontario, Canada, and determine whether publication of a 2018 Canadian OUD management guideline was associated with increased initiation.

Methods — We conducted a retrospective, population-based serial cross-sectional study of hospital encounters for opioid toxicity among patients with OUD between Jan. 1, 2013, and Mar. 31, 2020, in Ontario, Canada. The primary outcome was OAT initiation (methadone, buprenorphine–naloxone, or slow-release oral morphine) within 7 days of discharge, measured quarterly. We examined the impact of the release of the OUD management guideline on OAT initiation rates using Autoregressive Integrated Moving Average models.

Results — Among 20 702 hospital visits for opioid toxicity among patients with OUD, the median age was 35 years, and 65.1% were male. Over the study period, the percentage of visits leading to OAT initiation within 7 days rose from 1.7% or less (Q1 2013) to 5.6% (Q1 2020); however, the publication of the Canadian OUD management guideline was not associated with a significant increase in these rates (0.14% slope change, 95% confidence interval −0.11% to 0.38%; p = 0.3).

Interpretation — Among hospital encounters for opioid toxicity, despite rising prevalence over time, only 1 in 18 patients were dispensed OAT within a week of discharge in early 2020. These findings highlight missed opportunities to initiate therapies proven to reduce mortality in patients with OUD.



Hu T, McCormack D, Juurlink DN, Campbell TJ, Bayoumi AM, Leece P, Kent JT, Gomes T. CMAJ. 2023;

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