The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidelines for addiction treatment facilities amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.
The new guidelines target opioid abuse treatment.
According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people living with opioid abuse issues might be more likely to become exposed to COVID-19. That's because many people with opioid use disorders attend opioid treatment programs to get essential medications to manage their disorder. As a result, they show up to treatment centers on a near-daily basis.
While addressing the nation Monday, March 16, 2020, President Donald Trump released guidelines that asked people to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people whenever possible. The cap on face-to-face interactions has been an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infection rates, and reduce the chances of the virus spreading to more people.
On the substance abuse agency's website, administration officials said, "in circumstances in which a patient(s) have symptoms of infection (fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath) or in which they may have been in contact with someone who has such symptoms or has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 infection; it is important that the individual(s) not attend the OTP, but as importantly, that they continue to receive their medication to treat their OUD."
Ashley Bergeon works at Prevention Works, a long-time, Kalamazoo-based, substance abuse prevention nonprofit organization. She said the virus has directly impacted prevention services in West Michigan.
“From the prevention side, we do know this [COVID-19] puts a lot of people in a tricky spot in our community, particularly receiving those resources that they really need," Bergeron said.
Prevention Works has had to close 40 after-school and community-based programming locations since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Bergeon said when the programs will reopen is unclear. They serviced 800 to 1,000 youths in Kalamazoo County as of 2020.
She said a lot of people who attend Prevention Works's family and community-based programming have been impacted by substance-use disorders.
"So those sites are really a support for them to be able to learn new skills, to learn healthier skills, to maintain sobriety," Bergeon said. "Unfortunately, because of all of this, those sites have had to close down and postpone for the time being.”
Like nearly every industry right now, the Prevention Works staff is working remotely for social distancing purposes.
“We don’t know what this is going to look like in the long term," Bergeon said. "I know most people in the substance abuse field are really doing their best to make sure that services are provided to folks who really need it."
In response to an email from Newschannel 3, Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) wrote:
"Opioid treatment programs are strictly regulated by the SAMHSA. The role of the State Opioid Treatment Authority in Michigan is to ensure that the programs are following the federal rules. Programs are required to have a disaster plan and that is reviewed and approved before they can operate and programs have been directed to implement those. Opioid treatment programs have been provided with directions addressing this crisis through their contracted pre-paid inpatient health plans (the local Medicaid funding body) and all federal guidance has been shared with them. The State Opioid Treatment Authority in Michigan has been working with the opioid treatment programs and SAMHSA to process medication take home exception requests so the individuals receiving opioid treatment programs services can obtain their daily medications in advance so they do not have to attend the program on a daily basis."