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Seattle addiction clinic welcomes new methadone guidelines in wake of coronavirus

caption: Nurse practitioner Jackie Brolsma says ETS continues to treat patients while limiting clinical visits.
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Nurse practitioner Jackie Brolsma says ETS continues to treat patients while limiting clinical visits.
Courtesy of ETS

Addiction treatment is considered an essential service during the stay-home order. Providers say social distancing rules could result in a silver lining for their patients.

Methadone treatment for opioid addiction is highly regulated. Patients usually have to visit a clinic every day to receive it, according to Jackie Brolsma, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Evergreen Treatment Services in Seattle.

“Probably the greatest restriction we have is the requirement for patients, when they are early on in treatment, to daily dose or have to come to the clinic,” she said. “And of course that ... was at odds with what we needed to do when Covid-19 took over.”

Brolsma said Evergreen has reduced the number of in-person visits through more video consultations and counseling sessions. Patients with Covid-19 symptoms are directed to a mobile unit behind the clinic.

Most crucially, she said they’ve been allowed by federal regulators to give patients more “take-home” doses, allowing many patients to visit the clinic every other day. Brolsma said providers will be anxious to study the impact of the changes.

“It’s certainly ripe for research right now," she said. "I think we have the opportunity to learn a lot. And I’m really hopeful that our patients are able to demonstrate that they can safely manage the medication with less of the restrictions.”

Clinical director Sean Soth said providers have been seeking to relax these federal guidelines for awhile, and the current emergency has provided the impetus.

“I think the stigma of the addiction process really plays a role in how restrictive our treatment process is,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that we are able to recognize the benefits of the changes we’ve made in response to the pandemic.”

He said they’ll work with state officials and the University of Washington to study the results. Soth said after Evergreen’s request, federal regulators relaxed guidelines for opioid treatment providers statewide. The change is going smoothly so far.

“People are not seeing red flags pop up in terms of providing the additional take-homes,” he said.

He said Evergreen has seen a slight increase in new patients this spring, even as they’ve reduced the number of in-person visits to the clinic.

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