Clearly, since its arrival here in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has increasingly wreaked havoc upon the American population and the U.S. healthcare system. However, according to recent CDC (Center for Disease Control) numbers, so has the opioid epidemic. Specifically, between May 2019 and April 2020, 76,000 people died from an opioid overdose, “setting 2020 on track to be the worst year ever for overdose deaths.”
Unfortunately, the many problems associated with this widespread upsurge in opioid abuse have been compounded by the reticence of those afflicted to openly admit their issues with opioid dependence and willingly seek help, as well as the lack of treatment availability. Indeed, he most recent Surgeon General’s report on the opioid epidemic states only 1 in 10 of those with a substance use disorder get the treatment they need.
But there’s more — given substance abuse treatment significantly benefits from face-to-face interaction (e.g., one-on-one counseling, supportive individual and group therapy, etc.), the effect of having nationwide COVID-19 social distancing protocols and enforced “lockdown” measures has challenged those in the addictions treatment field to come up with effective alternatives to assist people seeking recovery from opioid addiction.
One popular response to the challenge that’s proven successful is telemedicine. Per the CDC website, telemedicine is “the use of electronic information and telecommunication technology to get the health care you need while practicing social distancing. All you need is a phone or device with the internet to continue your medical care while protecting yourself and your healthcare provider from COVID-19.”
Part of what’s responsible for the favorable outcomes of telemedicine stems from the fact that, even though the pandemic has created unforeseen obstacles to those seeking treatment, many treatment centers across the country “have switched from 100% face-to-face visits to 90-95% via telemedicine” with successful results overall.
That is, the proliferation of cell-phones with internet access allows many, if not most people who want treatment to utilize telemedicine as part of their recovery process.
Another challenge facing treatment centers has been the stringent oversight of the use of particular addiction medicines. In the midst of the current pandemic, however, lawmakers nationwide have made adjustments to allow clinicians greater ability to provide addiction medicine to those in need. Increased monitoring has been made part of this shift, since some of the medications used to help people recover from opioid addiction are actually long-acting opioids.
Certainly, addictions professionals recognize there are safety risks should the use of such drugs not be effectively monitored. Striving to achieve a “fine balance” to meet opioid-addicted patients’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic amounts, in part, to treatment centers giving clinicians the necessary decision-making standing to make addiction medication available to patients, but doing so within safe guidelines and with well-structured monitoring protocols in place. According to healthcare experts, proper monitoring “ensures that communities are not seeing any negative effects (and) these medications are staying with the individuals for whom they were intended.”
In terms of providing those with opioid dependency the necessary medical care, as well as one-on-one and “community” support (via online Zoom or Skype meetings, etc.), while ensuring safety guidelines and monitoring protocols are being followed, treatment centers across the country are rising to the pandemic’s challenges. Addiction professionals are making greater use of telemedicine wherever necessary, and utilizing the less restrictive state and local clinician guidelines to make addiction medicine more readily available to those who are seeking recovery from opioid addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid dependency issues or any substance use disorder, help is available at local addiction treatment centers in your local community or within your state. The most important step in getting help is taking the first step: reaching out for help and letting someone know you’re ready to recover your life, your health and your freedom.