By Kevin Deutsch
Strict federal controls on methadone – the opioid commonly used to treat heroin and pain pill addiction – have been loosened for New Yorkers amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Tuesday said methadone clinics in the state can send stable patients home with 28-day supplies of the opioid addiction drug, and less stable ones with 14-day supplies. Typically, methadone users must show up at city clinics each morning to receive their daily dose.
Restrictions on another commonly prescribed opioid addiction treatment drug, buprenorphine, are also being loosened amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Usually, patients seeking the medication for the first time must make an in-person medical visit. That changed Tuesday, when DEA officials said they would waive the restriction and allow initial online consultations.
Both public and private health providers are seeing continued demand for addiction treatment at some Bronx facilities as the coronavirus spreads; a natural consequence of the isolation, stress, and economic instability wrought by the virus, experts said.
Making things more complicated: The front-line care providers most seriously impacted by the opioid crisis – social workers, addiction counselors, nurses, EMT’s, and others – can be at greater risk for exposure to coronavirus because of their duties. And so can their patients.
New York City and state governments are advising addiction treatment facilities to remain operational, while at the same time taking any precautions they can to protect workers, such as increasing disinfecting cleanings and providing protective masks and gloves to at-risk staffers.