Pandemic-Based Approach to Methadone Treatment Restrictions Should Remain, Study Finds

When the COVID-19 pandemic tore through the United States in early 2020, substance use disorder treatment centers were forced to make massive changes to minimize the spread of coronavirus.

The fear of COVID-19 spread into crowded treatment programs run by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, prompting them to relax stringent federal regulations on distributing methadone, a common treatment for opioid use. The agency allowed programs to increase the number of take-home methadone doses that patients could receive and reduce the frequency of counseling and drug testing — changes that sparked concerns over medication diversion and lapses in treatment.

But a new study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health finds that these concerns appear unfounded. Relaxing the requirements for dispensing take-home methadone treatments did not significantly lead to an increase in fatal methadone-related overdoses in Connecticut at all, they found. The changes also did not result in reductions in the number of patients receiving treatment for their opioid use disorder.

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