When the pandemic hit in March, people in treatment for substance use disorder worried they would lose access to the medications and counseling. In most places, that hasn’t happened. For many in recovery, access to treatment has gotten a lot easier, Stateline reports. Since March, some patients have been allowed to take the life-saving medication methadone at home instead of risking COVID-19 exposure by visiting crowded clinics. Buprenorphine patients have had their prescriptions renewed by phone instead of visiting doctors every week or month. Addiction counseling and crisis support has become available over the phone.
Physicians and addiction experts are advocating for extending the emergency federal and state rules they say have saved thousands of lives by dramatically expanding access to addiction treatment. The American Society of Addiction Medicine and other behavioral health organizations are supporting a bill in Congress that would continue the addiction treatment telehealth rules beyond the pandemic. “Telehealth sessions have been a lifeline for those walking the long road to recovery during a stressful, isolating time,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Despite the changes, drug overdose deaths are still rising. Experts say that’s largely due to huge increases in the supply of illicit drugs, particularly those containing the deadly opioid additive fentanyl. The fear, stress, isolation and hopelessness that many Americans have experienced during the pandemic are likely causes of drug overdose deaths as well, said Dr. Paul Earley, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Nationwide, overdose deaths have been climbing over the past year, putting 2020 on track to be the deadliest yet for drug overdoses.