COVID-19 promotes life-saving policy change for opioid addiction


What your doctor is reading on

UPDATED MARCH 20, 2020: Facing the US pandemic COVID-19. USA, The US Administration of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. USA (SAMHSA) has announced new policy changes regarding home treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD).
Last week, the agency issued a directive to allow some patients in opioid treatment (OTP) programs to take their medications home, announcing that states may request "general exceptions" for all stable patients in an OTP to receive a 28-day supply of home-dose medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD).
The agency also said states can now request up to 14 days of take-home medications for patients who are less stable but who, in OTP doctors' opinion, can safely handle this level of take-home medications.
"SAMHSA recognizes the evolving problems surrounding COVID-19 and the emerging needs that OTPs continue to face," the agency writes.
In its new guide, SAMHSA also acknowledges that due to the pandemic, many substance use disorder treatment provider offices are closed, and many patients are unable to report to treatment services in person because they are quarantined or in a car isolation. This situation, the agency points out, has intensified the need for telehealth services and / or telephone consultations, making it difficult for providers to comply with current patient privacy regulations.
As a result, SAMHSA has relaxed existing regulations requiring providers to obtain written consent from the patient for the disclosure of substance use disorder records, which "would not apply in these situations to the extent that, as determined by provider (s) a medical emergency exists. "A frequently asked questions section on the SAMHSA website provides detailed and up-to-date guidance for providing methadone and buprenorphine treatment.
"SAMHSA affirms its commitment to support OTPs in any way possible during this time. As such, we are expanding our prior guidance to provide greater flexibility," the agency said.

A "life-saving" decision

Commenting on the initial change in SAMHSA policy for Medscape Medical News, Richard Saitz, MD, professor and chair of the department of community health sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts, said the policy "does not it's just a good idea, but it's critical and saves lives. "
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