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Take-Home Methadone Practices

doctor writing prescription

Methadone has a proven history as a leading treatment in the fight against opioid addiction. When used as part of an addiction treatment program, patients come to methadone clinics where their medication is dispensed daily.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and state and federal guidelines enforce take-home methadone restrictions to ensure patients in recovery do not misuse this medication. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have updated their take-home methadone practices.

Updated Guidelines for Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) Due to COVID-19

Back in March 2020, the country faced massive lockdowns due to COVID-19. Those in treatment for opioid use disorder worried they would lose access to medications such as methadone and the counseling they relied on to remain sober.

Restrictions placed on methadone and other medication-assisted treatment (MAT) medications mean OTPs are often crowded with those waiting to receive their daily medications. However, the threat of COVID-19 meant that these daily visits to clinics risked exposure for both medical professionals and patients. Without the freedom to take home methadone, patients would be at risk of relapse, overdose and death.

SAMHSA took nearly immediate action and recommended that states loosen restrictions and modify access to take-home medications such as methadone. Although opioid addiction treatment is traditionally done in person, here’s how many OTPs have evolved during the pandemic.

Virtual and Telehealth Treatment

Even before the pandemic, many addiction treatment centers called for easier access to life-saving treatments for those struggling with opioid use disorder. With the outbreak of COVID-19, many OTPs had to go virtual almost overnight, with addiction counseling and crisis support becoming more widely available over the phone and online.

Take-Home Medications

More relaxed rules due to COVID-19 also made it more feasible for patients to earn take-home medications. In certain states, buprenorphine patients can renew their prescriptions by phone instead of visiting their doctor every week.

Methadone, which has long been only available in clinics, has also been released in some states for patients to take home instead of risking exposure by visiting a crowded OTP every day. Some areas are even approved to deliver methadone to patients rather than requiring in-person pickup.

Health Insurance

These loosened restrictions on the state and federal levels have also made it possible for more health insurance providers to pay for telemedicine addiction treatment services. This includes public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The Future of Take-Home Methadone Restrictions

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out, future access to take-home methadone hangs in the balance — current changes are only in effect due to the ever-evolving public health emergency. Once the relaxed regulations expire, some addiction experts worry that patients may give up on treatment altogether if they cannot access take-home medication.

However, a bill called the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act could make these changes permanent if passed by lawmakers.

Learn More About Methadone MAT at BAART Programs

Take-home policies for methadone vary by state. If you would like to learn more about addiction treatment using methadone, contact BAART Programs — a national leader in MAT and addiction counseling.

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