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How States Have Adapted With COVID-19 and Methadone Treatment

by Ashley Smith

Patients recovering from opioid use disorder are living in an unprecedented time due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended social isolation as a key measure for preventing this infectious disease. Yet those who rely on methadone to assist with their withdrawal management cannot stay home if they want to receive the prescription treatment that helps control withdrawal symptoms and reduce their risk of relapse.

Thankfully, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has expanded their previous guidelines for Opioid Treatment Programs (OTP), offering increased flexibility during this time of uncertainty. Let’s explore how individual states have adapted with COVID-19 to ensure patients can receive critical methadone treatment.

How COVID-19 Is Putting OTP Patients at Risk

Every day across the United States, thousands of people attend highly regulated and monitored opioid treatment programs to receive methadone. This scenario with thousands of patients in close proximity is exactly what could foster the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In an effort to keep patients safe, SAMHSA has created some provisional guidelines for dispensing treatments like methadone for opioid use disorder. This includes relaxing take-home medication limitations for patients in an OTP so stable patients can receive 14 to 28 days of methadone. Implementing these guidelines is contingent on state approval.

Given what is known about community transmission of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, requiring patients to come to an OTP to continue receiving medication to fight their addiction could have several serious outcomes:

  • People could continue to come for methadone treatment even though they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, potentially exposing other patients and OTP staff to the disease.
  • People could choose not to come, leading to missed methadone treatments and potentially risking a resurgence of drug use, relapse and overdose.

How States Have Adapted to Treat Patients With Opioid Use Disorder

Many states are relaxing the rules so that OTP patients can continue receiving their medication and other services while limiting contact with others. States like Maine have allowed more flexibility to give patients 14-day or 28-day supplies of methadone and other anti-addiction medications. Depending on how stable a patient is, they can take their medication home and limit their interaction with other patients and staff. The clinics’ pharmacists oversee the dispensing of medication remotely.

Other states like New Hampshire have not approved these measures, but are still doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here are some ways they are keeping patients safe:

  • The use of virtual visits, telehealth and other remote options for counseling or physician visits has increased.
  • People with active symptoms, such as a fever of 100 degrees or higher, can call their clinic ahead of time to arrange off-hours dosing.
  • The number of patients allowed inside the clinic is restricted.
  • The number of people waiting in line is restricted, and those waiting must maintain a six-foot distance from others.
  • Patients not in line are asked to wait in their cars until instructed.

Health Care Resource Centers Continues to Serve Patients Throughout New England

As an essential medical facility, Health Care Resource Centers is committed to the health and well-being of the communities we serve during this time. To ensure patients get the best quality care, we are following all CDC guidelines as well as individual state protocols.

If you are struggling with opioid addiction, we are accepting new patients. Contact HCRC online or call us at 866.758.7769 to schedule your intake appointment.

Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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