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Gustavson AM, Gordon AJ, Kenny ME, McHenry H, Gronek J, Ackland PE, Hagedorn HJ. Response to coronavirus 2019 in Veterans Health Administration facilities participating in an implementation initiative to enhance access to medication for opioid use disorder. Substance Abuse. 2020 Sep 16; 41(4):413-418.
The actions needed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) have forged rapid paradigm shifts across healthcare delivery. In a time of crisis, continued access to and delivery of medication for opioid use disorder (M-OUD) is essential to save lives. However, prior to COVID-19, large variability in M-OUD adoption existed across the Veteran Health Administration (VHA) and it is unknown whether the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this divide. For the past two years, our team worked with eight VHA facilities to enhance adoption of M-OUD through a multi-component implementation intervention. This commentary explores these providers'' responses to COVID-19 and the subsequent impact on their progress toward increasing adoption of M-OUD. Briefly, the loosening of regulatory restrictions fostered accelerated adoption of M-OUD, rapid support for telehealth offered a mechanism to increase M-OUD access, and reevaluation of current practices surrounding M-OUD strengthened adoption. Overall, during the COVID-19 crisis, facilities and providers responded positively to the call for increased access to M-OUD and appropriate care of patients with OUD. The VHA providers'' responses and continued progress in enhancing M-OUD amidst a crisis may, in part, be attributable to their participation in an implementation effort prior to COVID-19 that established resources, expert support, and a community of practice. We anticipate the themes presented are generalizable to other healthcare systems grappling to deliver care to patients with OUD during a crisis. We propose areas of future research and quality improvement to continue to provide access and high quality, life-saving care to patients with OUD.