Patients with chronic pain or opioid use disorder (OUD) strive to get the maintenance and relief they require because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently, with the nation covered in the pandemic and doctors and nurses focusing their time and energy on sufferers with coronavirus.
Enter pharmacologists, the health care providers who can make sure these sufferers have entrance to their medicines—not just for chronic pain and OUD, but for common comorbid diseases like depression and anxiety.
“As with other medicines for other chronic conditions, hoarding, united medicines, and unknown future restrictions on medication production limit way,” stated Jeffrey Bratberg, PharmD, FAPhA, clinical professor at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy and an expert on substance use disease.
“This is further complicated by the real fear of withdrawal from opioid agonist prescriptions used for pain, and OUD should supply be disrupted.”
These barriers to entry allow pharmacologists to step in and contribute their help and expertise. “Main employees like pharmacologists can help bridge, improve, and provide access to care, whether through telepharmacy or in person, as safely as possible for the drugstore workers and the sufferers and their caregivers,” Bratberg stated.
While recognizing the challenges drugstores face with workload and staffing, Bratberg urged pharmacologists to “secure and maintain rapport and develop new ways to support sufferers through telemedicine, telepsychiatry, telepharmacy, longer duration regimens, and delivery and curbside pick-up.”
Patients with OUD must know how to contact medication OUD prescribers, Bratberg stated. “COVID-19 has limited outreach; a poster that gets put up but isn’t seen isn’t practical, nor a poster that cannot even be distributed.”
Some architectural barriers to access, like transportation, have been mitigated because of COVID-19 pandemic: opioid treatment programs can now read. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and DEA have released direction on in-person controlled person prescribing, making sustainable access to care more convenient than ever.
Though methadone investment still needs an in-person visit with the exam, “administrative changes increase distribution and pick-up services, especially for opioid therapy plans that can now deliver take-home methadone, for longer durations, to people’s homes,” stated Bratberg.
This is reassuring news for MAT [medication-assisted treatment] sufferers who have become “unwilling to leave their homes, as already marginalized people, if they even have stable housing and transport,” he continued.
Bratberg said he demands and believes that with mortality-reducing medicines like buprenorphine only “a phone call and delivery away,” more people will seek out care. This will be especially important as the supply of banned opioids dries up, he noted.
These eased constraints help providers, too. “By extending the time between doses, clinics are less full, and personnel can focus on protecting themselves to maintain care for as many patients as possible,” stated Bratberg. Bratberg urges pharmacists to continue to advocate for either eliminating the X waiver or becoming a new business to obtain a reservation, as long as payments are equivalent to those of other providers. This would allow pharmacologists to individually or collaboratively prescribe buprenorphine via telepharmacy, he stated.