TUESDAY, July 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- People who start treatment for heroin addiction while in the hospital and continue to receive outpatient addiction treatment after they're discharged are far less likely to relapse, new research finds.
The study, led by Dr. Jane Liebschutz of Boston Medical Center, involved 139 hospitalized patients with heroin addiction who were not previously receiving treatment for their addiction.
The patients were divided into a two groups. One group was started on buprenorphine -- a heroin substitute used to treat addiction -- while in the hospital, but when they were discharged they only received referral information about local community treatment programs.
The second group also began taking buprenorphine while in the hospital, but upon discharge they were referred directly to an outpatient buprenorphine treatment program.
In the month after leaving the hospital, 37 percent of patients in the group that were directed to the outpatient treatment group reported no illicit drug use, compared with 9 percent of those who got the referral information only.
On average, the patients in the outpatient treatment group also reported fewer days of illicit drug use and less drug use over the following six months, according to the study published June 30 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Liebschutz believes more emphasis needs to be placed on the longer-term treatment of hospitalized heroin addicts.
"Unfortunately, referral to substance abuse treatment after discharge is often a secondary concern of physicians caring for hospitalized patients," Liebschutz, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
"However, our results show that we can have a marked impact on patient's addiction by addressing it during their hospitalization," she added.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about treatment for drug addiction.