How Opioid Treatment Centers Respond to COVID-19

The coronavirus situation has been unfolding for a few months now, and most opioid treatment centers (OTPs) have found new, creative ways to cope. Depending on where you are living, your state may have already passed its peak by now. But it’s clear that returning back to normal is still quite a ways away.

We’ve been monitoring the various emergency response plans reviewed and cleared by SAMSHA and have seen several common questions come up. We recommend reviewing the five key elements of your COVID-19 emergency response plan to ensure your OTP is set up for long-term success.

5 Key Elements of a COVID-19 Response Plan for Opioid Treatment Centers


1. Keep Offices and Clinics Sanitized

This is pretty obvious but important. Here are some steps we recommend for you to keep your facility sanitized: 

  • Clean common spaces daily, including door handles, light switches, and keyboards with chlorine products; if possible, use ultraviolet lights.
  • Have hand sanitizer readily available.
  • Consider having non-essential staff work remotely.
  • Limit the amount of touching, and practice waving as opposed to handshakes.


2. Ensure You Have Up-to-date Emergency Contacts

Update the cell phone number and carrier of your patients weekly because they tend to change frequently. Most practitioners make it a part of the dosing process and medication pickup process, and patients will come to expect it. We suggest continuing this regime when you do any drop-offs of medications at their doorstep. Lastly, do not overlook ensuring you have up-to-date emergency contacts for your employees, as well. 

3. Reduce Patient In-person Appointments As Much As Possible

Allow all patients with earned take-home doses to utilize them during this time. We know it can be an incentive to draw patients to attend counseling appointments, but this is your opportunity to reduce patient appearance at the clinic. At the end of the day, it’s up to the prescriber’s discretion. If you have any new patients visit your clinic for opioid withdrawal treatment, consider referring them to an in-home detox program instead. Speranza Therapeutics and Aware developed a partnership to help provide an alternative opioid detoxification program for OTPs during COVID-19.

4. Develop Protocols for Different Scenarios

It’s likely that now or in the future, you will have a patient or staff member diagnosed with COVID-19 or suffering from typical symptoms. It’s important that you have a strong protocol for the actions and communications that need to take place. Once you have that plan, be sure to also relay that information to your staff so they have a chance to prepare. 

5. Determine a Flexible Medication Scheduling Strategy

Many OTPs have a flexible dosing schedule in place to plan for shortages. In the past, OTPs were required to have ten days' worth of medication inventory onsite. Given the current situation, the inventory requirement will likely be revised to 15 days or more (medication safe size permitting) in case neighboring OTPs close due to staffing shortages. 

6. Plan for Staffing Shortages

In addition to medication shortages, be sure to plan for staffing shortages. First, develop criteria for critical staff and those “at risk.” Next,  develop a strategy to limit their access to patients whenever possible. Instead, have these staff members meet with a patient through a glass window or through telecommunication devices within that same facility. If that is not possible, we recommend that you investigate alternative opioid detoxification services to have one less thing to worry about. 

We wanted to thank SAMSHA for the information that was referenced in this article. See the full document here. We encourage our readers to always do your own research as well to find out what programs and resources are available in your specific state. 




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