LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – More than 75,000 Americans died from opioids in the last year. It has lawmakers, hospitals and various organizations searching for a solution. UAMS is taking a new approach to battle opioid addiction in Arkansas.

UAMS is starting treatment right in the emergency department. It just finished its second year of offering life-saving treatment to patients with opioid use disorder.

“We’re going to attack this from multiple angles to do what we can to combat this crisis,” UAMS Clinical Decision Unit Medical Director Dr. Wes Watkins said.

Dr. Watkins said it starts with treating an overdose. In the last two years, UAMS has gotten grants allowing them to give out naloxone, the lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, all for free. Then, when patients are in the emergency department recovering from the overdose and going through withdrawal symptoms, every attending can now prescribe buprenorphine. That is a drug that helps with the symptoms of withdrawal that way patients can feel better faster.

Doctors will keep patients in an observation room for about 24 hours to get that dosage right. Once patients are feeling okay, doctors will help them get into a treatment program that same day.

“If you can initiate that in the emergency department and give people the resources they are twice as likely to be in treatment for those 30 days,” Dr. Watkins said.

UAMS is the first emergency department in the state to use this kind of approach. They hope other hospitals will follow.