COVID-19 and Opioids: Overcoming Challenges to Protect Those In Need

Female medicine doctor working on table with consulting patient, wearing mask to prevent viruses

As we face an international public health crisis not experienced in the lifetime of even some of our oldest citizens, we, at CSIP, are truly grateful to all frontline health care workers who are supporting families around the country. While the acute concerns of “Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019” (COVID-19) plague cities around the US, there is also the underlying concern for those facing more long-term health issues – including those in opioid addiction treatment and those in need of regulated opioids for medical issues.

The opioid crisis continues to impact our most vulnerable, and federal, state, and local agencies are working hard to keep essential services in reach. The dispensing of methadone at opioid treatment centers requires in-person attendance for regulating dosing. Yet, with social distancing guidance in place, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has released guidance that offers some flexibility around either 14 or 28-day take home doses for stable patients.

Remote support via telehealth, while previously on the rise, is now rapidly taking off. A recent PBS News Hour article highlighted Hazelden Betty Ford, the largest nonprofit in the US specializing in substance use disorders. While the organization had been rolling out its virtual counseling program, RecoveryGo, it had to speed up its launch timeline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is now available in Minnesota, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New York, and Florida, with more states on the way due to emergency provisions being made for insurance coverage and telehealth.

Recognizing that there are patients in need of regulated opioids for pain, flexibility in telehealth has also found its way to opioid prescribing. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) approved the remote prescribing of opioids without the normally required in-person assessment. This change is due to the state of emergency declared by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the telemedicine communication must be done using two-way real-time audiovisual technology.

With more and more Americans home and possibly also out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns for worsening home conditions and health issues – including rising drug and alcohol addiction and sale of fraudelent medications online. CSIP and its members, dedicated to the education and protection of consumers from counterfeit medications and illegal online pharmacies, urge the American public to report medications promising treatment of COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at [email protected]. CSIP’s VerifyBeforeYouBuy.org will also serve as a resource for those seeking to verify medications online amidst the global coronavirus pandemic. 

About the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP)
The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), a non-profit organization founded in 2011 by the White House, represents the technology sector and commerce intermediaries including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Oath, UPS, PayPal, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and .Health.  CSIP’s mission is to promote industry best practices as it relates to illegal online pharmacies, and educating consumers about safe purchasing of prescription drugs.