AMA President joined by addiction medicine and pain medicine physicians to discuss how nation’s opioid epidemic has been exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic

AMA President Patrice A. Harris, MD, was joined by Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, MD, and Steven Stanos, MD, May 29 in an AMA COVID-19 UPDATE podcast to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the nation’s opioid epidemic. Dr. Salisbury-Afshar is the Director at the Center for Addiction Research and Effective Solutions at the American Institutes for Research in Chicago. Dr. Stanos is the Medical Director of Swedish Health System Pain Medicine and Services and the Medical Director of Swedish Pain Services in Seattle.

“The opioid epidemic has been exacerbated by the current pandemic,” said Dr. Harris, who also serves as Chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force.

“It is really critical that as we think about essential services, we recognize that harm reduction services are essential services, and not having access will lead to increased morbidity and mortality for people who are using drugs,” said Dr. Salisbury-Afshar, who also highlighted the challenges and benefits of telemedicine platforms as well as the importance of regulatory changes that have increased accessed to buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder via telemedicine services.  

“The key issue here is eliminating treatment barriers,” said Dr. Harris, who highlighted increased flexibility for take-home methadone to treat opioid use disorder. “We have to make sure we are supporting our patients with pain that they continue to receive the care they deserve throughout this pandemic.”

“We’re seeing an increase in alcohol use and cannabis use,” said Steven Stanos, DO, who pointed to the need to be aware of what comes next. “With economic issues and job issues, patients at high risk are at significant risk. We’re doing close monitoring of patients, using virtual visits in the right way. Not just to refill medications but to really check-in on patients.”  Dr. Stanos explained that his pain clinic also is using telemedicine to continue access to mental health services and other care, such as mindfulness.

Dr. Harris concluded the podcast emphasizing the willingness of the AMA and physicians to work with state legislatures and governors to work together to implement the policies and other recommendations from the AMA Opioid Task Force to end the epidemic.

Read more about specific COVID-19 recommendations for opioid use disorder, pain and harm reduction.  

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