What steps have been taken for addiction treatment regarding COVID-19 and how can treatment facilities best prepare?
By now, the extent and serious nature of COVID-19 on American daily life is well known, but the focus now turns to working with unique or otherwise impacted populations: people currently living with addiction issues or those who seek addiction treatment. COVID-19 poses a unique and serious risk to those already suffering from addiction, as it can complicate the delicate process of recovery (or even the attempt to seek help in the first place).
According to Forbes, over 23 million Americans experience a substance use disorder (SUD), among whom only 10% access treatment. Depending on the severity of their disease and access to economic and social supports, many people with SUD cycle in and out of emergency departments, addiction treatment centers, homeless shelters and correctional facilities like jails and prisons.
“Individuals with SUD are more likely to experience homelessness or incarceration than those in the general population,” wrote Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “and these circumstances pose unique challenges regarding COVID-19 transmission.” The American Society of Addiction Medicine has offered advice on their website based upon federal guidelines, while also contributing state-specific outreach programs.
“Many treatment centers unfortunately operate without medical staff or the level of physician involvement that ASAM criteria would require,” according to Kelly Clark, MD, MBA, former ASAM President and founder of Addiction Crisis Solutions. “For the health of patients, it is imperative that infection control precautions be followed.” Furthering the issue is that certain substance abuse disorders can lead to an increased susceptibility to COVID-19, and given the potential for overburdening the healthcare system, an already-underserved population stands to suffer further marginalization and barriers to treatment.
Social distancing, the primary preventive measure advised by the CDC, poses unique problems for people experiencing SUD and attempting to achieve or maintain long-term recovery. “This is an especially challenging time for people with SUD since an important part of recovery is social support,” said Joshua Lynch, DO, an emergency medicine physician and co-founder of Buffalo Matters, a program designed to aid healthcare providers in treating people with opioid use disorder (OUD).