COVID-19 has streamlined MAT for Addiction Treatment

By Taylor Weyeneth | DCI

Key Points:

  • COVID-19 makes it easier to prescribe MAT through telehealth services

  • Proponents believe that expanding treatment for opioid addiction will help thousands of Americans during this unprecedented time, especially in rural areas

  • Opponents express concerns that streamlined MAT can lead to overdose and does little to help those addicted to methamphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol

Stat News, May 12, 2020 - Since March, federal officials have expanded access to addiction medicine in the United States. Since the initial spread of the Coronavirus, doctors feared that stress, isolation, and financial hardship caused by the pandemic would take a huge toll on the roughly half-million Americans with an opioid addiction. One analysis by the Well Being Trust projected that 75,000 Americans would die from suicide and overdose as a result of the pandemic.

Policy makers have voiced concern that overdose rates would spike now that many syringe exchange services or walk-in addiction treatment centers have closed or reduced their hours of operation and that the 30 million Americans who have filed new unemployment claims since the pandemic began might lose their ability to pay for care. Nonetheless, physicians and drug enforcement officials acknowledge that it is more dangerous for vulnerable patients with opioid addiction to go to clinics rather than staying home alone.

Doctors have taken advantage of the new regulations placed, which have allowed them to prescribe buprenorphine by video chat or even by phone. Americans who had originally begun their days with a trip to an addiction clinic for a single dose of methadone are now receiving 28-day take-home supplies. In New York City, for example, some clinics have managed to deliver methadone supplies by courier, a huge change from the federal government’s previous, strict regulation on methadone.

Some doctors have argued that the curtailed regulations benefit those living in rural areas, where finding qualified doctors to conduct in-person visits is often difficult.

In a recent coronavirus-related stimulus relief package, Congress passed a measure that aims to prevent doctors from unknowingly prescribing opioids to patients recovering from addiction. The new measure allows health providers to freely share information concerning a patient’s full treatment history with one another.

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