Addiction Treatment and Drug Policy in Times of COVID: Everything You Should Know

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In a state of emergency declared by the Trump administration in March, the government suspended federal law requiring patients to see a doctor personally before they can be prescribed medications that help suppress withdrawal symptoms, such as suboxone. Patients can now receive these prescriptions using a phone call or video conference with a doctor.

People that need treatment for addiction are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time, the world health organization is encouraging people to self-isolate. That’s because isolation is considered as one of the most effective ways to stop coronavirus from spreading. That means people struggling with substance abuse disorder have a higher risk of being alone.

Disrupted friendships, decreased healthcare access, and crumbling jobs are all devastating to people that have started breaking out from their addiction clenches. As such, self-isolation means these individuals are actively endangered when undergoing treatment for substance abuse.

Staring at addiction without support is not good for these people during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the recognition of the acute treatment need, drug rehab facilities in the U.S are adapting to this new reality. Currently, rehabilitation centers are providing safe environments for individuals with SUD. And, they are going this while taking precautions to reduce the risk of contracting the disease while undergoing treatment on the premises.

Anybody with a substance use disorder should, therefore, not fear to call addiction helpline Georgia. This is a phone number that provides information and guidelines that an addict or their loved ones need to seek assistance. Most facilities have a working phone number that patients or addicts can call to seek help or information about treatment.

COVID-19 and drug policy

The United States is at the center of two public health emergencies: COVID-19 and the overdose epidemic. Now more than ever, drug abuse policies are at the crossroads of public health, criminal justice, and human rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the health services nationwide as the federal government abandoned federal drug and telehealth services and changed the availability of harm reduction and recovery services.

O’Neill Institute held the virtual briefing with opening remarks by Congressman Paul Thonko (NY-20) to discuss drug treatment and harm reduction in communities struggling with COVID-19.

Government decision to facilitate access to treatment for opioid dependence

For hundreds of thousands of Americans who have to go to clinics to take opioid drugs every day, social distance is almost impossible. The federal government has eased some of its long-standing restrictions in response to coronavirus.

This is good news, because continued access to two essential drugs, buprenorphine, and methadone, is key: if patients miss a dose, they can go on withdrawal and go on street drugs, risking an overdose.

Those who fight addiction are especially vulnerable at the age of the coronavirus for a variety of reasons. Opioid users have much higher health outcomes, including hepatitis C, HIV, and chronic bronchitis. Many of them are over 60 years old. Infectious diseases can spread like wildfire among drug user communities (recall the Indiana HIV outbreak in 2015). Also, there are psychological factors: “We all know that stress is one of the major triggers for people to go into relapse,” says Bethany Hallam, chairman of the Allegheny County Board and an outspoken drug treatment lawyer. “To think of all the additional stressors that people have in their lives right now, on top of the regular everyday stressors—and then you add into that people sitting at home stewing.”

The federal leadership, when it comes to methadone clinics during a pandemic, is at least confusing. Clinics of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration instructed the clinics to follow each state’s guidelines for responding to coronavirus. On March 16, SAMHSA released two conflicting sets of recommendations for methadone clinics and patients. In the first case, it was allowed to take with him up to two weeks, but only if the patient with methadone had coronavirus or its symptoms, he asked the clinician to subscribe and contacted SAMHSA with this confirmation.

But the separate manual, also released on March 16 by SAMHSA, is much weaker, allowing you to take four weeks of home dose for stable patients — no state or federal approval is required for each patient — and two weeks for less stable patients, who believes in the clinic, “can safely handle this level of take-home medication.” This guideline will be operational during a pandemic, says SAMHSA spokesman Christopher Garrett.

Adapting to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Different addiction treatment facilities have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Here are some of them.

Enhancing Safety Precautions

Drug rehabs are some of the facilities that should be more cautious and prepared to deal with an inflection during the COVID-19 pandemic. To play a role in preventing the spread of coronavirus, these facilities are screening patients via phone calls before they invite them. This helps in reducing the time that an individual spends outside. It also prepares the facilities’ staff to cater to individual patient’s needs.

As such, calling an addiction helpline in Georgia before visiting a facility for treatment is very important in the time of COVID-19. But, once a patient arrives at the facility, they still have to answer questions relating to the symptoms of COVID-19. These include fever, cough, and feeling ill. Additionally, visitors to drug rehabs are given protective equipment. This eliminates their chances of contracting or spreading the disease. Such protective equipment may include gloves, face masks, respirators, disposable face shields, and goggles among others.

Precautions at the Waiting Room

Addiction treatment facilities have modified their waiting rooms to handle patients at the time of coronavirus. To comply with the CDC clinics guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, treatment centers are doing the following:

  • Providing tissues, hand sanitizers, and trash cans
  • Distancing chairs to prevent coronavirus from spreading
  • Disinfecting and cleaning treatment facilities regularly and ensuring that patients do not use items like books and magazines that can be contaminated with the virus.

Making Buprenorphine Remotely Accessible

Buprenorphine is an important addiction treatment medication. Patients should not discontinue their use of this medication abruptly. Running out of this medication can be a reason why a recovering addict can call an addiction hotline number in Georgia. To ensure that patients continue to receive their medication, rehab facilities are conducting consultations via the phone, FaceTime, Skype, and other compliant resources. Prescriptions are also being issued via non-HIPAA compliant resources. Medication providers can also allow refills to patients without visiting to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Increasing Naloxone Access

Naloxone is another important treatment for addiction. It is a drug that is used to mitigate opioid overdose effects. This drug can be used to reverse the negative respiratory depression that opioids cause while preserving the life of a person before they get to a rehab facility or hospital. Addiction treatment facilities are enabling people to obtain naloxone even without prescriptions. Doctors can also issue prescriptions for this drug via electronic means.

Small-Group Meetings

Face-to-face interactions are possible for some people even during the coronavirus pandemic. Small gatherings can be held at inpatient treatment centers. These can involve a maximum of 10 people while maintaining social distancing and taking other precautions to ensure the safety of the recovering addicts.

Such precautions may include:

  • Positioning seats 6 feet apart
  • Disinfecting chairs and the meeting room
  • Supplying protective items like hand sanitizers and face masks to the participants

Why Seek Addiction Treatment at Rehabs in Times of COVID-19?

There is no convenient time to call a drug help hotline in Georgia and commit to treatment and recovery from addiction. But, seeking treatment for addiction in times of COVID-19 may be ideal for some people. That’s because they may be socially distanced with people and places that trigger them to use addictive substances. Such triggers can include workmates, workplaces, bars, and clubs.

What’s more, inpatient treatment facilities can provide company and treatment that most people need to recover from drug addiction. Other reasons to seek treatment in rehabs in times of COVID-19 include:

  • Isolated rooms- These rooms eliminate the threat of contracting the virus than when staying at home.
  • 24/7 medical supervision- Having medical professionals that monitor the state of a person 24/7 is safer during detoxification and withdrawal.
  • Controlled detoxification- Addiction treatment facilities have professionals that guide addicts through the detoxification process. This is very important because withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
  • Loneliness prevention- Drug rehabs provide much-needed social engagement and communication to prevent depression which can be caused by loneliness in the time of COVID-19.
  • Forced withdrawal prevention- Abrupt withdrawal addictive substances like alcohol and heroin can lead to severe changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and brain functioning. This can even lead to death. Rehab facilities ensure that the withdrawal of such substances is done safely.

The Bottom Line

Calling addiction hotline free in Georgia to get information about substance abuse can be the first step in the recovery process. However, a person needs to select a rehab facility and call it for more information on how to undergo treatment. Rehab facilities have taken different measures to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, they are still helping people recover from drug addiction at this time.

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