Opioid treatment program safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic: A statewide survey

BACKGROUND: Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) serve as daily essential services for people with opioid use disorder. This study seeks to identify modifications to operations and adoption of safety measures at Pennsylvania OTPs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

METHODS: A 25-min online survey to clinical and administrative directors at all 103 state-licensed OTPs in Pennsylvania was fielded from September to November 2020. Survey domains included: 1) changes to services, client volume, hours and staffing during the COVID-19 pandemic 2) types of services modifications 3) safety protocols to reduce COVID-19 transmission 4) challenges to operations during the pandemic.

RESULTS: Forty-seven directors responded, for a response rate of 45%. Almost all respondents reported making some service modification (96%, n = 43). Almost half (47%, n = 21) of respondents reported reductions in the number of clients served. OTPs were more likely to adopt safety protocols that did not require significant funding, such as limiting the number of people entering the site (100%, n = 44), posting COVID-safety information (100%, n = 44), enforcing social distancing (98%, n = 43), and increasing sanitation (100%, n = 44). Only 34% (n = 14) of OTPS provided N95 masks to most or all staff. Respondents reported that staff’s stress and negative mental health (86%, n = 38) and staff caregiving responsibilities (84%, n = 37) during the pandemic were challenges to maintaining OTP operations.

CONCLUSION: OTPs faced numerous challenges to operations and adoption of safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding mechanisms and interventions to improve adoption of safety protocols, staff mental health as well as research on patient experiences and preferences can inform further OTP adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic and future emergency planning.

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Full citation:
Bandara S, Maniates H, Hulsey E, Smith JS, DiDomenico E, Stuart EA, Saloner B, Krawczyk N (2022).
Opioid treatment program safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic: A statewide survey
BMC Health Services Research, 22 (1), 418. doi: 10.1186/s12913-022-07832-7. PMCID: PMC8965537.