Are We Prepared For The Repercussions of Covid-19 On The Opioid Crisis?
Presently, the nation is almost at a standstill due to the Corona Virus (COVID-19) and the majority of people are adhering to the CDC’s recommendations of quarantine and social isolation. Yet, there is a saying that we use in the addiction community which rings truer now than ever before, “addiction knows no boundaries.” This nationally mandated quarantine does not mean that the opioid epidemic has been put on hold. People are still at every different phase of recovery or in need of treatment at any given time. A mandated quarantine has resulted in temporarily shutting down schools, businesses, and restaurants. Politicians, governors, and even The President of the United States are asking all citizens to abide by the “quarantine rule”, meaning they are highly encouraging those that can stay home, do so until further notice. Statistically, the virus appears to have a more serious effect on those that are considered immunocompromised, or persons 65 and older - and it travels quickly in close quarters, meaning homeless shelters and those are who incarcerated are at high risk as well. However, one element absent from this national discussion is another vulnerable group, patients with opioid use disorder.
Those in recovery for addiction who are dependent on daily medication assisted treatment are at a much higher risk for relapse. As mentioned before, the current recommendation is social isolation, which is the most important act each of us can take to limit the spread of this virus, according to The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Nevertheless, this act of isolation, which can appear seemingly easy to do under the right circumstances, can be very difficult for those in recovery. For some people who are taking methadone, staying home isn’t an option because of government regulations that control how this medication is prescribed and dispensed.
Methadone, in the United States, is highly regulated and usually only dispensed at strictly monitored opioid treatment programs. These programs amount to more than 1,300 across the country and nearly all of them require their patients to show up on a daily basis to receive their dose of methadone. This act alone, multiplied by the thousands of people who depend on this medication, is the exact opposite of encouraging social isolation. BrightView does not offer methadone, instead offering buprenorphine, which in comparison to methadone, a schedule II drug, is a schedule III drug - meaning it has a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. This means that buprenorphine can be prescribed for longer periods of time, depending on each patient’s progress in their treatment plan, allowing patients to socially isolate as needed.
So, how can patients in treatment stay safe during this extreme time of uncertainty? There are two major factors to consider regarding an outbreak of a highly contagious disease for those in recovery, one being patients might keep coming in to get their medication even if they display symptoms of COVID-19, which means they could expose other patients and medical staff. Another likelihood would be those that are infected would refrain entirely from coming in to get their medications, resulting in missed doses and in turn risk withdrawal and possible relapse. Either of these outcomes are dangerous and concerning.
Luckily, most outpatient treatment centers, including BrightView Health, are taking incredible measures to reduce these possibilities. To compete with the changes that the COVID-19 virus has brought with it, including basically implementing social quarantine for the majority of the public; all BrightView centers have increased the use of virtual visits or telehealth medicine. These are essentially virtual face to face meetings of patient and prescriber, or patient and counselor, to avoid total disruption to a patient’s weekly schedule. This of course, allows both patients and professionals to avoid physical contact with each other, diminishing the chance of contracting or passing the virus. This also gives patients the option to continue to be evaluated by their normally designated physician instead of someone new.
What does this mean for someone who needs help now? All of BrightView’s centers are open and taking extreme safety and health precautions to ensure that everything is sanitized and disinfected as often as possible. BrightView is still accepting intakes and assessments and treating patients. The only service that BrightView has put on hold are group counseling sessions, because these tend to have more than ten people in a gathering.
During the uncertain times of this global pandemic, it is essential to have established protocols to best serve patients. We are still at the beginning of determining and implementing these protocols, however BrightView is committed to being at the forefront of helping people through the opioid epidemic during this time.
If you are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, we encourage you to contact us today. Our friendly and caring staff answer the phones 24 hours a day. 1-833-510-HELP