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Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Addiction

Pa. Drug And Alcohol Secretary Says The State Can Handle Substance Treatment In The Time Of COVID-19

Suboxone is one of the medicines used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. Under new federal guidance to reduce in-person treatment and slow the spread of COVID-19, eligible patients can have up to 28 days of medication.
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Suboxone is one of the medicines used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. Under new federal guidance to reduce in-person treatment and slow the spread of COVID-19, eligible patients can have up to 28 days of medication.

With COVID-19 continuing to spread, there are new treatment protocols for people with substance use disorder. While the state’s providers have been managing the necessary changes, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith said the coronavirus outbreak and substance use disorder are two public health crises that feed each other.

I absolutely think that, under the circumstances that we are living in, that it is extremely likely that we could see more individuals turning to substances to deal with anxiety, depression, stress,” Smith told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Smith said, under new federal guidance, patients in treatment programs who are considered stable by their physicians can be prescribed up to 28 days worth of medication. Compared to a 14-day period previously allowed, this will mean fewer in-person interactions. 

Providers and case managers are also making phone calls and video calls to check in with patients. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has also issued guidance for the state’s Centers of Excellence, which manage opioid use disorder cases, to use telemedicine in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

New patients can still be accepted into treatment. Smith said facilities are taking precautions like taking temperatures and asking about COVID-19 symptoms. 

“Yes, it's more difficult now. Yes, it's a strain on our system. But if you know anything about the disease of addiction and folks with substance use disorder, the window of opportunity when they're willing to seek those supportive services can be really, really small and we have to capitalize on every opportunity we have,” Smith said.

She urges anyone who needs help to seek it.

“This is something that we're equipped to handle,” Smith said. “And anyone who's seeking treatment, anyone who says they're ready for a life of recovery, we're ready to make sure you have the resources to do so.”

Smith said there are recovery houses in the state that are in danger of closing, since residents are no longer working and can't pay rent. While the state currently has no authority over them, the department said a plan to begin licensing recovery houses in July is still on track, which will help funnel referrals and funding from state and federal governments.

“When all of this COVID-19 starts to decline and America starts to recover from this crisis, it doesn't change the fact that we've still got substance use disorder to deal with,” Smith said.

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