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COVID-19: Beyond Tomorrow
September 1, 2020

Opportunities for Research on the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders in the Context of COVID-19

Author Affiliations
  • 1National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Psychiatry. Published online September 1, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3177

Requirements for minimizing physical contact to reduce transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 have led to shifts in treatment and research on psychiatric disorders,1,2 including substance use disorders (SUDs). Notable have been increases in use of telehealth, changes to reimbursement for remote services, shifts in rules and regulations, impacts on vulnerable populations, and difficulties with data collection. These shifts provide an opportunity to evaluate which changes should remain after coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which should be reserved for crises, and which ones are deleterious.

In clinical practice, the most notable change has been the expansion of telehealth, especially by videoconference.2 However, internet access can be challenging in certain geographical areas or for individuals less comfortable with technology or who cannot pay for it. Provision of treatment by telephone may be an alternative, but there is insufficient information on differences in efficacy and acceptability of telephone vs videoconference visits. Furthermore, management of some patients, such as those with suicidal ideation, may be harder to conduct in a telehealth visit regardless of modality, and certain assessments, such as urine toxicology screens, may not be possible.

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