Why Treatment for Drug Addiction has to Continue After Hospital Discharge

Patient with a doctor

Perhaps one of the greatest flaws in our current medical system is how we treat drug addicts and alcoholics who overdose and seek medical treatment at a hospital. Studies show that addicts who start treatment for addiction immediately after recovering in a hospital from a recent overdose are far less likely to relapse than addicts who do not.

Dr. Jane Liebschutz, of the Boston Medical Center, performed a research project on one-hundred and thirty-nine hospitalized patients, all hospitalized from a heroin overdose. All patients had not experienced any addiction treatment of any kind prior to hospitalization.

Following discharge from the hospital, the patients fell into two categories, patients who simply went home and went back to their old lives, and patients who immediately sought care for their heroin addictions.

According to the research and survey of these patients, those who sought immediate help after hospital discharge were no less than four times less likely to relapse than patients who did not seek ongoing help. This isn’t to say that some of the patients who sought ongoing help did not relapse. But it is to say that sobriety and abstinence statistics for overdose survivors who found a rehab and admitted themselves to it immediately after hospital discharge had about a four-hundred percent greater chance at staying sober than overdose survivors who sought no ongoing help after leaving the hospital.

According to Liebschutz: “Unfortunately, referral to substance abuse treatment after discharge is often a secondary concern of physicians caring for hospitalized patients. However, our results show that we can have a marked impact on patient's addiction by addressing it during their hospitalization.”

The doctor is right. There is something missing here in how we treat overdose survivors.

We Need a Better Solution

Currently, there exists no standard line or system for routing drug overdose patients from their hospital discharge to a treatment center. Addicts might be encouraged to seek treatment, but they are on their own for finding a program, getting in touch with that program, and getting into that program. This is a huge flaw in our hospital system. Every hospital in the United States needs to have a system for directing drug and alcohol overdose survivors directly from their hospital bed and into a treatment center.

Girl in emergency room after drug overdose.

This may sound like a lot of work to place on our already over-burdened hospitals, but actually, in the long run, this approach will pay for itself and be beneficial for hospitals. Here’s why. Hospitals almost never end up treating the same addict for an overdose only once. Usually, a hospital will have to treat the same addict more than once for the same type of drug overdose, until the addict either dies, decides to get help and finds it on their own, or moves away to a different area. And since addicts are never able to foot their own hospital bill, it is very costly for a hospital to have to keep treating the same overdose patient over and over again.

However, if a hospital were to route an overdose patient directly into a rehabilitation center, odds are, they’d never have to treat that patient again. Not only is this the sensible route for hospitals to take as far as the correct and ethical treatment of their patients goes, but this is the more affordable solution for hospitals as well. This solution would hit two birds with one stone. The solution effectively saves addicts by rescuing them from their overdoses and rehabilitating them. The solution also saves hospitals much-needed funds and man hours by only having to treat the same addict once.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.