Syracuse doctor puts ER on front line of opioid epidemic

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Dr. Ross Sullivan used to tell heroin and painkiller overdose patients in Upstate University Hospital's emergency room to stop using drugs and go to local addiction treatment programs for help.

Sullivan quickly learned that approach didn't work because the wait to get into rehab took months, too long for people hooked on opioids to stay off drugs. Most patients would leave the ER and use heroin and other opioids again as soon as possible to ease the agony of withdrawal.

So last year Sullivan started his own clinic in the ER to provide addicts with short-term prescriptions of Suboxone, a brand-name version of the drug buprenorphine that eases cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The clinic tides patients over until they get into a rehab program or find a doctor in the community who prescribes Suboxone. The clinic has seen more than 175 patients so far and has steered about 80 percent of them to treatment in the community.

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