The May 2020 issue of Health Affairs journal includes the article, “Self-Help Groups And Medication Use In Opioid Addiction Treatment: A National Analysis,” by Hefei Wen and colleagues. In response to world events, the editors of Health Affairs asked the authors to put their work in the context of the current coronavirus crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated social distancing strategies threaten to reverse recent progress in combatting the opioid epidemic. After two decades of sizable increases in drug-related deaths, the number of individuals succumbing to fatal overdose decreased in 2018 for the first time in recent years. Now, cities and states across the country are reporting concerning spikes in overdose deaths, in some places as high as 50 percent.
While it is unclear whether and how long these trends will last, there is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD). It has increased drivers of relapse such as social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and joblessness. As these risk factors have increased, COVID-19 threatens to undermine two sources of stability for people with opioid use disorder: access to self-help groups, and to treatment programs offering highly effective medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD).
Our team examined the use of medications with and self-help groups with and without each other in a study published in the May issue of Health Affairs. We found that six out of 10 patients discharged from specialty substance use disorder treatment programs do not use medication-assisted treatment (MAT). In particular, individuals referred to these programs by the criminal justice system or living in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are more likely to participate in self-help groups without concomitant use of medication. We believe that these stark differences reflect an unfortunate bifurcation in treatment—many people are offered either self-help groups or medication, but not both.
Source: Health Affairs