UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Adapting inpatient addiction medicine consult services during the COVID-19 pandemic Harris, Miriam T. H.; Peterkin, Alyssa; Bach, Paxton; Englander, Honora; Lapidus, Emily; Rolley, Theresa; Weimer, Melissa B.; Weinstein, Zoe M.


Background: We describe addiction consult services (ACS) adaptations implemented during the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic across four different North American sites: St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia; Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, Oregon; Boston Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts; and Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. Experiences: ACS made system, treatment, harm reduction, and discharge planning adaptations. System changes included patient visits shifting to primarily telephone-based consultations and ACS leading regional COVID-19 emergency response efforts such as substance use treatment care coordination for people experiencing homelessness in COVID-19 isolation units and regional substance use treatment initiatives. Treatment adaptations included providing longer buprenorphine bridge prescriptions at discharge with telemedicine follow-up appointments and completing benzodiazepine tapers or benzodiazepine alternatives for people with alcohol use disorder who could safely detoxify in outpatient settings. We believe that regulatory changes to buprenorphine, and in Vancouver other medications for opioid use disorder, helped increase engagement for hospitalized patients, as many of the barriers preventing them from accessing care on an ongoing basis were reduced. COVID-19 specific harm reductions recommendations were adopted and disseminated to inpatients. Discharge planning changes included peer mentors and social workers increasing hospital in-reach and discharge outreach for high-risk patients, in some cases providing prepaid cell phones for patients without phones. Recommendations for the future: We believe that ACS were essential to hospitals’ readiness to support patients that have been systematically marginilized during the pandemic. We suggest that hospitals invest in telehealth infrastructure within the hospital, and consider cellphone donations for people without cellphones, to help maintain access to care for vulnerable patients. In addition, we recommend hospital systems evaluate the impact of such interventions. As the economic strain on the healthcare system from COVID-19 threatens the very existence of ACS, overdose deaths continue rising across North America, highlighting the essential nature of these services. We believe it is imperative that health care systems continue investing in hospital-based ACS during public health crises.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)