On June 1, UCLA CBAM co-sponsored an event with the USC Institute for Addiction Science which included the screening of a short film documenting the impact of COVID-19 on people who take methadone. The film was followed by a panel discussion with addiction science experts Steve Shoptaw (UCLA CBAM) and Ricky Bluthenthal (USC), drug policy advocates, the filmmakers, and someone with lived experience with methadone.
Methadone is a life-saving medication used to treat opioid use disorder. It has been available to patients for more than 60 years, but is subject to arcane regulations that have not kept pace with the science of addiction. Patients taking methadone must go to a specialty clinic to receive their daily dose of medication. Some patients must travel for hours every day to access care, causing a strain on finances and physical health and limiting their availability for work and family obligations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations were loosened in order to limit the number of in-person interactions in clinics. Patients were allowed to take home anywhere from 14 to 28 days of medication and the result was incredibly positive. As COVID regulations have ended though, patients have had to return to more frequent, often daily, clinic visits, but patients and advocates want take home medication to more widely available on a permanent basis.
One panelist made the point that we are losing the “competition” with those who sell drugs. If treatment is less accessible than the drug, if treatment is more costly than the drug, if treatment is located too far away and requires the daily rearrangement of work schedules and childcare schedules, if medication is exponentially more difficult to obtain than drugs, then we have set patients up for failure.