The New York State Health Department launched a new program aimed at meeting the needs of opioid addicted patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. After a highly successful pilot program that began in April, it is now running at full capacity and will continue until further notice.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a full agonist at opioid receptors in the brain, and is the the longest-standing and most scientifically proven medication treatment for opioid use disorder. It reduces opioid withdrawal and cravings, and protects against opioid overdose, in addition to improving numerous other health and social outcomes. Only the oral formulation of methadone is approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder, and it can only be provided by Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) with certification from the Drug Enforcement Administration, SAMHSA, and NYS OASAS (New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports) - NY Dept. Of Health Press Release
This new program allows health department teams to make up to 1,300 deliveries every month to patients that are currently enrolled and that have met a series of specific requirements that granted them access to this groundbreaking methadone delivery program. Patients who are COVID-19 positive, have any similar type of respiratory illness or are otherwise immunocompromised would be considered eligible. Under normal circumstances, this drug is not permitted for home delivery due to its strict regulation under federal guidelines.
What Are The Program Guidelines?
Initially, the requirements for the pilot program were much stricter than they are today, and were relaxed when the program became permanent. Some of the biggest changes included lowering the age minimum to 50 from 65 as well as lowering the minimum required take home doses to 7 from 14. While they might seem like small changes, this action drastically increases the number of patients that will be able to benefit from the program. Below is a comprehensive list of the current program guidelines.
- Diagnosis of symptoms of COVID-19
- A take home dose of methadone for a minimum of 7 days, age 50 or older AND one of the following underlying health conditions:
- Lung disease
- Moderate to severe asthma
- Heart disease
- A weakened immune system
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
"Methadone is a life saving medication," said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. "New Yorkers who take methadone and get sick from COVID-19 should not have to choose between getting their medication and protecting their health or the health of others. No other medication is as strictly regulated as methadone, and I urge my federal colleagues to consider making these changes permanent after the pandemic is over."
When the pilot version of this program was launched in April, designated health department teams started making deliveries to isolation hotels in New York City.