Refusal to accept emergency medical transport following opioid overdose, and conditions that may promote connections to care

Rachel S. Bergstein, Kelly King, G. J. Melendez-Torres, Amanda D. Latimore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Opioid overdose is a leading cause of death in the United States. Emergency medical services (EMS) encounters following overdose may serve as a critical linkage to care for people who use drugs (PWUD). However, many overdose survivors refuse EMS transport to hospitals, where they would presumably receive appropriate follow-up services and referrals. This study aims to (1) identify reasons for refusal of EMS transport after opioid overdose reversal; (2) identify conditions under which overdose survivors might be more likely to accept these services; and (3) describe solutions proposed by both PWUD and EMS providers to improve post-overdose care. Methods: The study comprised 20 semi-structured, qualitative in-depth interviews with PWUD, followed by two semi-structured focus groups with eight EMS providers. Results: PWUD cited intolerable withdrawal symptoms; anticipation of inadequate care upon arrival at the hospital; and stigmatizing treatment by EMS and hospital providers as main reasons for refusal to accept EMS transport. EMS providers corroborated these descriptions and offered solutions such as titration of naloxone to avoid harsh withdrawal symptoms; peer outreach or community paramedicine; and addressing provider burnout. PWUD stated they might accept EMS transport after overdose reversal if they were offered ease for withdrawal symptoms, at either a hospital or non-hospital facility, and treated with respect and empathy. Conclusion: Standard of care by EMS and hospital providers following overdose reversal should include treatment for withdrawal symptoms, including buprenorphine induction; patient-centered communication; and effective linkage to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103296
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • EMS
  • Opioid overdose
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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