Is a Prehospital Treat and Release Protocol for Opioid Overdose Safe?

Daniel Kolinsky, Samuel M Keim, Brian G. Cohn, Evan S. Schwarz, Donald M. Yealy

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background The current standards for domestic emergency medical services suggest that all patients suspected of opioid overdose be transported to the emergency department for evaluation and treatment. This includes patients who improve after naloxone administration in the field because of concerns for rebound toxicity. However, various emergency medical services systems release such patients at the scene after a 15- to 20-min observation period as long as they return to their baseline. Objectives We sought to determine if a “treat and release” clinical pathway is safe in prehospital patients with suspected opioid overdose. Results Five studies were identified and critically appraised. From a pooled total of 3875 patients who refused transport to the emergency department after an opioid overdose, three patient deaths were attributed to rebound toxicity. These results imply that a “treat and release” policy might be safe with rare complications. A close review of these studies reveals several confounding factors that make extrapolation to our population limited. Conclusion The existing literature suggests a “treat and release” policy for suspected prehospital opioid overdose might be safe, but additional research should be conducted in a prospective design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-58
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • emergency medical services
  • naloxone
  • opioid overdose
  • prehospital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Is a Prehospital Treat and Release Protocol for Opioid Overdose Safe?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this