Posts Tagged ‘COVID19’

Update: Coronavirus at Opioid Treatment Programs

 

 

It’s only Wednesday but it feels like the week should be over already.

Our opioid treatment program is making sure that our patients know that as a healthcare facility, we will be open, and that we have enough medication to treat everyone as usual. Federal officials have stated that no shortages of methadone or buprenorphine products are expected. I hoped we have relieved patients’ worries with these reassurances. They will not be abandoned.

But treatment may look a little different.

On Monday, our OTP instituted social distancing by placing chairs in our lobby at least six feet apart. Someone in administration (not me) decided to let only ten people into our building at a time, while the rest stood in a line outside, standing at least six feet apart from each other. It wasn’t terribly cold that day, but some patients were uncomfortable and not prepared to wait in cold weather. Thankfully our forecast is for warmer temperatures this week. There was a little grumbling from a few patients about waiting outside in the cold. But more patients thanked us for taking precautions to reduce their risk.

Over the weekend, I decided, with input from our nurse manager, that I would no longer ask patients dosing with buprenorphine to wait in our lobby until dissolved. Since I recently found out that most other North Carolina OTPs already allow patients to place their buprenorphine dose beneath their tongue and leave before the dissolving process is complete, I thought it was reasonable to suspend observed dissolving of buprenorphine for now, until the risk of Coronavirus in gone.

Ten days ago, I sent in a bunch of exceptions for medically fragile patients whom I felt were stable enough for advancement of levels, so at least that issue was already resolved. Some medically fragile patients aren’t safe for extra take home doses, so we decided that when they come to the opioid treatment program, they get expedited dosing. This means they go to a separate area to wait, away from other patients, to reduce risk of virus transmission.

I worked a normal day on Monday, and did only one admission, which was a little slow. But I was able to do a few yearly physicals on established patients, and saw more patients for follow ups, dose adjustments, and the like. Between each patient I washed my hands with soap and water (we were nearly out of hand sanitizer) and wiped down the patient’s seat, my desktop, and door handles with Sani-wipes. In my few spare moments I paced the lobby and wiped down every doorknob I could find. I chatted with patients and all of them seemed to be calm, handling the situation well.

We had case staffing as usual, after closing at our usual time. We sat at least six feet from each other and talked again about plans to do some blanket exceptions for take homes for patients meeting certain stability criteria.

Over the weekend, SAMHSA issued statements to guide decisions about advancing take home doses, particularly for patients who are diagnosed with COVID, to help us make sure they get their usual medication despite being put into isolation either at the hospital or at home. They made it clear that previous barriers would be suspended to allow for continued care.

Then yesterday, our state SOTA also helped, both by issuing statements and holding a conference call. It was a very well-attended conference call; I think nearly all our state’s OTPs had representatives on that call. Requests for exceptions for extra take homes were discussed, as was the option of doing counseling sessions on the phone or some sort of teleconferencing. Our OTP’s previous decision to suspend group counseling to reduce risk of viral transmission was supported by our state officials, which made me feel better.

Later yesterday, I was on a conference call with the medical director of our company, and he crafted some blanket exceptions which were submitted to our state’s SOTA today and were approved. Starting tomorrow, we have permission to implement plans to give reasonably stable patients extra take home doses. These will have to be phased in over the next week, and the number of extra doses varies, depending on how long the patient has been in treatment and overall stability.

We are giving a lot of extra doses to patients. Even though I think it’s the right thing to do in order to reduce our patients’ risk of contracting COVID19, it makes me nervous. I don’t want to lose a patient from a methadone overdose from inappropriate consumption these take home doses, either.

So far, there are no positive COVID tests in our county. This isn’t because we have all healthy citizens, but rather because patients aren’t being tested unless they have traveled to a high-risk area or have known exposure to someone with a confirmed COVID diagnosis. People with only cough or intermittent fever aren’t being tested. They are being told they don’t meet criteria for testing. You can read more about this nationwide dilemma here: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/03/who-gets-tested-coronavirus/607999/

Medical professionals in this area don’t have enough test kits yet. We won’t know how many infections we have until symptomatic people can get tested. And what do we tell people with symptoms but no test? Should they isolate themselves? For how long? Word has it that our county is expecting to get test kits soon, so this situation will (hopefully) resolve soon.

We ran out of hand sanitizer yesterday. But this was no problem. This being Wilkes County, famous for home brew and moonshine, my Program Director decided to make her own. As it turns out, there are simple recipes on the internet to make hand sanitizer. All you need is some aloe vera gel and rubbing alcohol, or ethanol, and mix them together in a certain ratio to form hand sanitizer. She poured her concoction into empty sanitizer containers and they worked well. The alcohol content is adequate (more than adequate by the smell) to do the job. One problem solved, at least.

She’s inspired me. I like to do crafts, so I think I will make some fabric face masks over the weekend.

We will get through this. For however long this contagion lasts, we will take all the precautions we can, and strive to be examples of courage and calm in the face of difficult uncertainties.

Above all else, we must reassure patients that they won’t be abandoned.

Coronavirus and Opioid Treatment Programs

covid19

 

 

 

I intended to blog this week about the new mobile opioid treatment program proposed rules, but I’m saving that for later. This week I’m writing about dealing with the Coronavirus at the OTP, and dealing with the fear of the Coronavirus.

Let me preface this blog post by saying I’m not an infectious disease expert, and that I don’t have specific knowledge about the coronavirus outbreak. But I’ve been thinking about ways to protect patients and staff at our opioid treatment program, talking to other Addiction Medicine specialists in our state, and reading advisories for OTPs issued by state and federal agencies.

Those agencies have given us some guidelines and ideas of how to continue to treat our patients as safely and seamlessly as possible, even if some patients and staff contract Coronavirus. That’s the main goal of this blog post: to reassure patients that their OTPs are reading recommendations from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and SOTAs (State Opioid Treatment Authority). We want to do the best job possible, and we won’t abandon our patients.

Let’s not panic. All of us are scared, unsure what the next days and weeks will bring. But panic often brings more problems than the actual situation. Just look at the unfortunate effect from private citizens who hoarded medical face masks. Now medical personnel are having trouble obtaining face masks that are essential for their jobs. Let’s also take a deep breath and think about how much toilet paper we really need for the foreseeable future, before panic-buying the shelves bare. The plunging stock market is worrisome, but maybe it’s also an opportunity. If I had extra money lying around, I’d invest it now. Again, I have no financial expertise except “buy low, sell high.” And this is as low as the stock market has been for some time.

Our OTP will remain open. We do not plan to close our facility. Personnel who become ill will be asked to stay at home, and we may be short-staffed on some days, but we will be open. Patients do not need to panic about getting their medication. Authorities say they do not expect any shortages of either methadone or buprenorphine products over the coming months, which should be a relief to all patients.

Here are some of the highlights from CSAT (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment), a division of SAMHSA:

-Extra take home doses can be given, after seeking exceptions through the extranet exception website, for patients with confirmed COVID19 infections who are quarantined. This can also be available for people in quarantine because they’ve been exposed to people with COVID infection. These diagnoses and exposures need to be verified by the patient’s healthcare provider, of course.  OTP providers can ask for up to 14 days of take homes, where appropriate.

-Teleconferencing or even just telephones can be used for counseling if face-to-face meetings aren’t feasible, if the technology used meets patient confidentiality standards.

-If a patient is ordered to quarantine at home, authorities are allowing OTPs to deliver medications, or allow a designee to pick up medication and take it to the patient, if chain of custody documentation is done properly. Of course, proof of quarantine will be required.

-CSAT recommends good infection control practices: handwashing, wipe surfaces frequently, ask patients with cough or fever to use masks if available, and use social distancing Though there’s no safe distance to prevent COVID transmission, six feet is recommended. That may be difficult in small counseling offices, but we can get creative.

Though I’m the only physician or medical provider at our OTP, I can work from home if I’m diagnosed with Coronavirus, or exposed to it. These days, secure video conferencing technology is advanced enough that I should be able to carry on with patient care. And thankfully, even though I’m clumsy with technology, I live with my fiancé who is fluent with computers and their programs.

The most medically fragile OTP patients may be able to get more take homes than usual, as decided by the medical director of each OTP. The benefits and risks must be weighed carefully, and the medical director can go through SAMHSA’s exception website to ask permission to give these patients more take homes than usually allowed.

At case staffing a few days ago, we talked about the importance of good hand washing, use of hand sanitizers, and wiping down surfaces frequently that are touched by many people. This would include doors, handles, counters, and the like. To set a good example (and because it was really slow, and I had no patients waiting to see me) I wiped down lobby chairs with sanitizing wipes. I gave them a good scrub and asked our employees to remember to wipe down offices and doorknobs frequently. Am I going to prevent Coronavirus from darkening our doorway? Maybe not, but I felt better as I pictured the Sani-wipes murdering Coronavirus on our patient chairs.

Our OTP has discussed how to change dosing procedures for patients with COVID infections, patients exposed to COVID infections, and for suspected cases of COVID. We want to keep those patients away from the rest of the patients and limit their contact with staff, while still providing needed care. These procedures may cause delays and I hope patients will be patient.

We’ll keep an ear to the news in our area, to stay informed about confirmed cases. I think we will see a spike in the number of COVID19 cases once test kits are available. That will be alarming, but it’s expected, since we haven’t been able to diagnose suspected cases over the last few weeks, due to lack of testing equipment at our local hospital and Health Department.

My biggest message is this: we will not abandon our patients. We will keep working to provide the best care possible under difficult circumstances.

As this pandemic unfolds, we will constantly evaluate the risks and benefits of how we are providing care at our OTP. We’ll look to see what’s working and what’s not working. We may change our minds about procedures as time goes on and we get more information. I think the coming week will give us more data about the extent and locations of COVID infections.

We’ll stay flexible, and we will hope our patients will be patient as we all get through this thing together.