President’s Update, Apr. ’20: Responding to the Coronavirus PandemicApril 10, 2020
As the nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, our work at FORE has not stopped.
After awarding our first round of grants in March to 19 organizations that are expanding access to treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), we’ve been reaching out to grantees and others on the frontlines to hear how the pandemic has been affecting their efforts and how best we can support them.
We have heard about pressing challenges in maintaining access to OUD treatment and recovery services, particularly for people at high risk for complications of COVID-19. Not only can opioid use have negative effects on respiratory and pulmonary health, but many of those coping with OUD are incarcerated and are thus vulnerable to the high transmission rates seen in some jails and prisons. Many others with OUD are low income and/or unstably housed, and thus may not have access to safe shelters, nor to the telehealth tools now being widely used to provide routine care. We also know that the isolation that comes from sheltering in place can negatively affect those in OUD treatment, many of whom depend on group meetings and other recovery supports and can increase the risk that those in recovery will return to substance use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and many others are already highlighting these critical factors on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the work to prevent and treat OUD.
First, FORE is using its capacity as a convener and resource to assist those on the front lines of the challenges at the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s opioid crisis. Thus far, we have assembled several resources to shine light on strategies that health care organizations, government agencies, and community-based organizations are using to confront these challenges as well as provide a place for up-to-date regulatory and policy guidance under the national and public health emergencies. In response to what we are hearing, FORE launched a weekly webinar series in mid-March and, so far, have conducted webinars on:
- regulatory changes and guidance related to medications for OUD during the COVID-19 pandemic;
- actions taken by state and federal governments to assist those with OUD during the pandemic and outline further steps policymakers could take;
- the impact of COVID-19 on treatment of OUD among people who are incarcerated and ways of ensuring continuous care after release; and
- creating patient-centered telehealth experiences for medication-based OUD treatment.
Each week our panelists include grantees as well as other experts. We are gratified to see the high level of interest in these webinars, which draw several hundred attendees for each session. In case you’ve missed them, recordings are freely available on our website along with downloadable presentations. Additional resources are being developed around each webinar topic, including a document with answers to questions raised during the webinar and materials such as policy briefs and tools for use in practice.
To promote access to treatment, FORE is also sharing bulletins from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that offer guidance on providing medication-based treatment during a public health emergency. And we have commissioned legal advice on the permissibility of four hypothetical scenarios for prescribing buprenorphine during the pandemic under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
We invite you to explore these and other tools for how to sustain access to OUD treatment during the pandemic on our Resources page.
I want to add that this is just the beginning of our response. In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to identify contributions we can make to support patients and providers as they make temporary changes and anticipate future needs. The impact of the pandemic is likely to be felt for a significant amount of time, especially among those with OUD and those working to maintain connection to and treatment for them. We want to ensure that the innovative solutions that emerge from this pandemic are identified and spread to produce long-lasting improvements in access.
FORE wants to hear from those working on the frontlines of the nation’s OUD crisis about your greatest needs and how you may be changing the way you work in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We also hope to hear from patients about how you are experiencing the necessary changes in the health care treatment system at this time. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.