In October 2012, Bellevue Hospital Center (Bellevue) in New York City was temporarily closed as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the largest hurricane in US history. Bellevue’s primary care office-based buprenorphine program was temporarily closed and later relocated to an affiliate public hospital. Previous research indicates that the relationships between disaster exposure, substance use patterns, psychiatric symptoms, and mental health services utilization is complex, with often conflicting findings regarding post-event outcomes (on the individual and community level) and antecedent risk factors. In general, increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is associated with both greater disaster exposure and the development or exacerbation of other psychiatric symptoms and need for treatment. To date, there is limited published information regarding post-disaster outcomes among patients enrolled in office-based buprenorphine treatment, as the treatment modality has only been relatively approved recently. Patients enrolled in the buprenorphine program at the time of the storm were surveyed for self-reported buprenorphine adherence and illicit substance and alcohol use, as well as disaster-related personal consequences and psychiatric sequelae post-storm. Baseline demographic characteristics and insurance status were available from the medical record. Analysis was descriptive (counts and proportions) and qualitative, coding open-ended responses for emergent themes. There were 132 patients enrolled in the program at the time of the storm; of those, 91 were contacted and 89 completed the survey. Almost half of respondents reported disruption of their buprenorphine supply. Unexpectedly, patients with psychiatric comorbidity were no more likely to report increased use/relapse as a result. Rather, major risk factors associated with increased use or relapse post-storm were: (1) shorter length of time in treatment, (2) exposure to storm losses such as buprenorphine supply disruption, (3) a pre-storm history of red flag behaviors (in particular, repeat opioid-positive urines), and (4) new-onset post-storm psychiatric symptoms. Our findings highlight the relative resilience of buprenorphine as an office-based treatment modality for patients encountering a disaster with associated unanticipated service disruption. In responding to future disasters, triaging patient contact and priority based on a history of red-flag behaviors, rather than a history of psychiatric comorbidity, will likely optimize resource allocation, especially among recently enrolled patients. Additionally, patients endorsing new-onset psychiatric manifestations following disasters may be an especially high-risk group for poor outcomes, warranting further study.
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This study is supported in part by NIDA grant 5U10DA013035 (Rotrosen). Preliminary data were presented at the 2013 APA Research Colloquium for Junior Investigators (Williams). Statistical assistance was provided by Keith Goldfeld DrPH.
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