BACKGROUND: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) are associated with important public health benefits. Program changes implemented in response to COVID-19 hold promise as ongoing strategies to improve MOUD treatment.
METHODS: MOUD patients on buprenorphine or methadone, providers, government regulators, and persons who use drugs not in MOUD were recruited in the Northeast region of the United States between June and October of 2020 via advertisements, fliers, and word of mouth. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted. Interviews were professionally transcribed and thematically coded by two independent coders.
RESULTS: We conducted interviews with 13 people currently on buprenorphine, 11 currently on methadone, 3 previously on buprenorphine, 4 previously on methadone, and 6 who used drugs but had never been on MOUD. In addition, we interviewed MOUD providers, clinic staff, and government officials at agencies that regulate MOUD. Most participants found increased take-home doses, home medication delivery, and telehealth implemented during COVID-19 to be favorable, reporting that these program changes reduced travel time to clinics, facilitated retention in care, and reduced stigma associated with clinic attendance. However, some participants reported negative consequences of COVID-19, most notably, decreased access to basic resources, such as food, clothing, and harm reduction materials that had previously been distributed at some MOUD clinics.
CONCLUSION: Access to and retention in MOUD can be lifesaving for persons using drugs. COVID-19-impelled program changes, including increased take-home doses, home medication delivery, and telehealth generally improved participants’ experiences with MOUD. Making these permanent could improve retention in care.
Lessons from the first wave of COVID-19 for improved medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) treatment: Benefits of easier access, extended take homes, and new delivery modalities
Substance Use and Misuse, 57 (7), 1144-1153. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2022.2064509. PMCID: PMC9709780.