Methadone Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lived Experience

What we are doing

Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is a type of opioid treatment that typically requires participants to take prescribed doses at their clinic. While methadone can be a lifesaving medication for people with opioid use disorder, the strict requirement of daily in-person clinic visits can be an extremely challenging barrier to achieving consistent dosing for patients receiving MMT.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued guidance to Opioid Treatment Programs which expanded participant eligibility to access methadone doses, specifically loosening restrictions of take-home doses.

Why it matters

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting everyday life in many ways. During these unprecedented times, access to high-quality opioid treatment programs for those seeking treatment is vital. The COVID-19 pandemic may also present as an opportunity to reexamine dated opioid treatment practices and explore alternative approaches to improve treatment delivery.

How we are studying it

Our team conducted a needs assessment to describe the perceptions about, and changes to, MMT access in the Piedmont region of North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. During June and July 2020, representatives from the North Carolina Survivors’ Union (NCSU) administered a survey to participants of three methadone clinics. This project was conceptualized and led by people with lived experience of drug use.

How to use the results

Our survey found that the participants’ take-home dosing varied by clinic, suggesting inconsistent adoption of SAMHSA take-home dosing guidelines in response to COVID-19. Our work was recently published online pre-print, meaning it has not completed the peer review process in a scientific journal. The contents are preliminary and subject to change. However, we are providing the information back to the community given the urgent nature of this topic area.

Survey materials are available to other researchers for reference. Please visit our lab notebook for more information.

Who is conducting and supporting the study

Key partners for this effort include the North Carolina Survivors Union (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center. NCSU is a self-support group of people with lived experience of drug use, operating within a drop-in center and harm reduction program in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Funding for this project comes from the United States Food and Drug Administration. Studies at the Opioid Data Lab are conducted by independent researchers and do not necessarily represent the views of funders or partners. We are grateful to generations of taxpayers in North Carolina for supporting public universities. We are also grateful to US taxpayers for safeguarding public health by supporting FDA and this research project. These projects are being registered with the University of North Carolina Institutional Review Board.