How the Coronavirus Sparked Innovations in Addiction Treatment

March 26, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread pain and disruption in the lives of ordinary people. As hospitals shift to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients, it is getting harder to find certain types of medical treatment. Those seeking addiction treatment have had to get creative. Especially since traditional addiction treatments, such as group therapy, do not fit with CDC social distancing guidelines.

Luckily, necessity often leads to invention. The Coronavirus sparked innovations in addiction treatment, connecting countless people who struggle with substance abuse to medical assistance.Person on phone using telehealth services after Coronavirus sparked innovations in addiction treatment

Group Therapy from Your Living Room

Addiction could be considered a disease of isolation. When one feels alone, they may seek to cope with loneliness, depression, anxiety, or other co-occurring mental health disorders by abusing substance. One of the main ways addiction treatment programs counter this is with group therapy sessions. Group therapy gathers several individuals struggling with addiction and helps them bond over shared experiences. This helps build a sense of community, and compels individuals towards recovery.

However, when keeping at least six feet apart from one another becomes essential for preventing the spread of a virus, a group gathering becomes unfeasible.

Many treatment centers have gotten creative and begun offering group sessions over online mediums. While this trend is more pronounced in aftercare groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), it is becoming more widespread amongst treatment facilities. While in-person contact carries an irreplaceable effectiveness, hosting virtual recovery meetings can expand treatment to those who cannot attend in-person group therapy sessions.

Addiction Telehealth

Telehealth services (or telehealth for short) are medical services provided via telephone or Internet. The addiction treatment industry has long been experimenting with telehealth services. Initially envisioned as a way to provide remote treatment to those in rural areas or those facing barriers to in-person treatment, addiction telehealth has faced several barriers. Most notably, the Ryan Haight Act of 2008. In brief, this act requires an in-person evaluation with a physician before any controlled substances can be prescribed.

Due to the public health emergency, physicians are now empowered, on a federal level, to prescribe medications without an in-person medical evaluation first. While barriers remain on the state level, this has paved the way for addiction telehealth to take off. Medical evaluations have begun via online means for certain treatment facilities. While there remains a great deal of work to be done implementing addiction telehealth and analyzing its results, the Coronavirus sparked innovations in addiction treatment in this area.

Take-Home Methadone

Those who opt to taper off of substances like heroin may find themselves taking doses of methadone, buprenorphine, or some other tapering drug. This proven method, usually overseen by medical professionals in a designated clinic, can help users slowly wean themselves off illegal substance. Again, problems arise during a pandemic. Most notably, methadone clinics usually require onsite supervision, and more than a few clinics see long lines. As with group therapy, close-quarters conditions can spread the Coronavirus.doctor reviewing Coronavirus sparked innovations in addiction treatment

Due to increased criticism, some methadone clinics are exploring offering methadone and buprenorphine doses as take-homes. Functioning closely to a take-out model, this innovation could increase efficiency and minimize the risk of exposing more people to the virus.

However, this method is not widely used. Methadone, buprenorphine, and other tapering drugs are technically opioids, meaning they do have the potential for abuse. To prevent this, these drugs are highly regulated.  Only opioid treatment programs may dispense these drugs. Due to high demand, these programs can see thousands of individuals a day. This setting can cause COVID-19 to spread amongst patients.  While federal regulations have been relaxed to allow more take-home doses and virtual patient monitoring, state regulations leave room for further innovation.

Innovations at American Addiction Centers

As a leader in the addiction treatment industry, American Addiction Centers (AAC) has been quick to explore avenues of innovation during this pandemic. AAC now hosts virtual support meetings, connecting those in recovery to one another from their living rooms. Just because there’s a pandemic, doesn’t mean you have to put your recovery on hold. AAC remains open and committed to providing critical addiction treatment. Don’t wait to start your life in recovery.

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