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Opioid Recovery Treatment Clinics Deal With Covid-19

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Without a doubt, the coronavirus has increased the risk of opioid overdose and relapse from recovery for patients suffering from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). In fact, the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (OPMAP) shows a 42% rise in overdoses in May, compared to May of 20191. All of a sudden, people in recovery have been faced with a new stressful environment exacerbated by shelter-in-place isolation. How do I get my treatment and my medication? How do I reach out when I’m supposed to be isolated? With that, recovery clinics have been faced with the challenge of maintaining connections with their patients and keeping them on the path to recovery by delivering treatment and medication in a safe and reliable environment.


For Symetria Recovery, it took quick decisions, immediate action, creativity and a lot of extra effort and care to keep delivering it’s services and supporting its patients.


“The CDC initially recommended a two-step process: prevention followed by mitigation. Symetria Recovery’s COVID-19 Task Force decided to go to mitigation right away,” said Paul Cassidy, Symetria Recovery’s Senior Vice President of Operations. “We met on a Wednesday and by Monday we had discontinued all unnecessary face-to-face contact and limited foot traffic to an absolute minimum.”


Patients were evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine how each one would interact with the clinic; whether they would qualify for virtual counseling, whether they needed additional counseling and how often they would receive their medication.


The federal government did relax some of its guidelines so that patients have been able to pick up doses of their medication less frequently. “So, if they were getting it every day, we were able to extend that to every three days, one week to two weeks, three weeks to four weeks,” Cassidy explained. “Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, Symetria medical staff in full PPE have been able to provide curbside dosing, where patients can pick up their medication in the parking lot.”


Virtual counseling was also made more accessible by allowing each patient to participate in a way that was most comfortable for him or her. In some cases, patients have had the opportunity to participate in virtual group therapy at the clinic if they were unable to do so from home.  In these cases, each patient was set up in a separate office so they all could stay within the social distancing guidelines.


Federal guidelines, requiring face-to-face admissions have created another challenge. So new patients have been required to come in to the Symetria clinic, but interviews were virtual from a separate room in the clinic. Only the physician’s exam, of course, needed to be in the same room.


“One of our biggest struggles was getting protective equipment for our staff,” Cassidy said. “We had to go outside our typical supply chain to procure appropriate masks gowns, hand sanitizers and wipes. It was a full out effort so we could continue to satisfy our patients’ needs safely.”

In all, patients or those considering help for substance use dependency or addiction should be reassured that getting recovery treatment is among the most essential services and every precaution is taken seriously.  Patients are encouraged to call their clinic for any questions regarding recovery or safety concerns.  For more information, call 866-719-3813.


1Source: Washington Post, July 1, 2020.

Dale Willenbrink
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