Relaxed Opioid Restrictions Need to Stay

Relaxed Opioid Restrictions Need to Stay

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, another crisis in the United States is most likely going to get worse. The opioid epidemic has been greatly impacted, making it harder for people addicted to opioids to get treatment. Opioid treatment is usually done in person, so social distancing and restricted access to treatment centers is harmful to those who need the treatment. The federal government did make it easier for patients to get treatment virtually though, so people do have options for treatment. This has made a big impact on patients getting the help they need, but when the pandemic is over the rules could go back to normal, making it hard to get treatment again.

The regulations were relaxed in various ways. Doctors were able to prescribe a drug for opioid addiction called buprenorphine over video or audio calls. Normally people would need an in-person consultation. It is also easier to prescribe the medication across state lines, which would normally require the doctor to have a license in both states. Rules for take home doses of methadone were also eased, allowing patients to get the prescription they need. State and federal officials also allowed Medicare and Medicaid to pay for telemedicine treatment and even allowed methadone to be delivered to patients so they did not have to leave their homes to get medication. The majority of patients were able to get treatment because of the relaxed regulations.

Unfortunately, the relaxed regulations are only in effect until the public health emergency expires. Providers are calling on Congress to pass the TREATS Act, which would make a lot of the new changes permanent. The federal government most likely does not want to ease restrictions because of the possibility that the treatments could end up in the wrong hands. Methadone and buprenorphine are opioids so there is a chance they could end up on the black market and be used recreationally. Doctors take abuse seriously, so they take multiple precautions to avoid this including frequent urine screenings to ensure patients are actually taking their medications.

Some experts believe the fears of drugs going into the recreational market are too exaggerated. They believe diversion of the medications are a result of patients not having access to the medications, leading to them going to illegal sources for the drugs. The strict regulations imposed on opioid treatments could actually be a cause of diversion, and not be a preventative measure as was hoped. Data needs to be examined to see if the relaxed regulations helped patients more than it hurt them so doctors can show regulators the effect telemedicine had on opioid sufferers’ lives. Doctors and researchers have a great opportunity to study the results of treatment via telemedicine versus in person consultations, so they need to act as soon as possible. Covid might be at the forefront of peoples’ minds, but we still need to address the opioid epidemic because If we don’t, overdoses will continue to skyrocket, and patients will be worse off than when the pandemic started.

If you have been impacted by the opioid epidemic, you could be entitled to compensation. Contact us by calling 412-471-3980 or filling out our contact form and a member of our staff will get back to you as soon as we can.

German Lopez, ‘“The stakes are life and death”: Addiction treatment’s Covid-19 challenge’ VOX (December 1, 2020). [Link]

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