Drug Treatment Hampered by COVID-19 Curbs

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With much of the nation shut down amid calls for social distancing, people in drug treatment face weeks or months without the in-person meetings and support services long considered a lifeline, the Washington Post reports. From Seattle to New York, providers have canceled support groups or moved them online. Inpatient treatment centers have limited family visits. Counselors urge patients to check in by phone. Clinics that dispense medications to treat opioid addiction have reduced access to waiting rooms, sending staff outside for curbside delivery. At a time when overdose deaths from opioids and other drugs are rising in many states, addiction specialists worry the changes will disrupt the fragile healing process for those who rely on a robust support system. Providers say they are determined to stay open, even with more limited services.

“The last thing that the health-care system needs right now are thousands of people in withdrawal or filling up the emergency rooms or going back on the streets and overdosing,” said Dan Reck, who oversees MATClinics, with four treatment centers in Maryland.  About 1,700 clinics nationwide are certified to dispense opioid addiction medications on site. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has urged the clinics to provide uninterrupted treatment. An agency handbook on disaster planning for treatment programs notes that disruption to services can cause clients in recovery to relapse, and that those receiving medication-assisted treatment “are at risk of serious medical and psychological complications if the process is interrupted.” Providers at opioid treatment programs have been working around the clock, staggering dosing appointments to reduce crowds in waiting rooms and dispensing medications outdoors to patients showing symptoms of coronavirus infection.

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