The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have reduced the number of patients receiving treatment at medication-assisted treatment (MAT) facilities, according to data from a new study from Quest Diagnostics analyzing clinical drug test results before and during the pandemic.
The study, which was led by Harvey Kaufman, MD, senior medical director, healthcare analytics solutions at Quest Diagnostics, found a decline in clinical drug testing during the pandemic. Average weekly tests fell ~70% from the baseline period (pre-pandemic) to the trough in early-April (early pandemic period). Testing remained lower throughout the pandemic period.
After the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, MAT patients accounted for 18.1% of samples; after its onset in mid-March, that proportion fell to 14.7%, a 19% decline. At the same time, the proportion of samples from pain management clinics rose from 22.4% pre-pandemic to 31.0% after its onset. The explanation for these changes is not yet known with certainty, but is likely tied to the widespread reduction in in-person medical visits (characteristic of MAT facilities) during stay-at-home orders nationwide. “Many [substance use disorders] treatment centers have been forced to close or scale back significantly during the pandemic shutdowns,” the authors noted, “leaving less access to these vital services for those in need.”
Niles JK, Gudin J, Radcliffe J, Kaufman HW. The opioid epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic: drug testing in 2020. Popul Health Manag. ePub ahead of print. Published Oct 8, 2020. doi:10.1089/pop.2020.0230