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WSU study explores whether access to more methadone leads to misuse

Courtesy of National Institute on Drug Abuse

A new study by WSU researchers looks at a policy that has relaxed the limits on how much methadone a patient can take home at one time.

Heroin addicts use methadone to legally wean themselves off the opiate while avoiding withdrawal symptoms. During the Covid pandemic, health officials changed the rules to allow patients to take home larger amounts for their treatments as a way to prevent exposure to the coronavirus.

The WSU study focused on a Spokane methadone clinic where take-home doses for 183 patients rose from 11.4 doses per 30 days in the eight months prior to the policy change to 22.3 doses per 30 days in the eight months following.

“We found essentially no change in treatment outcomes like overdose, emergency department visits, and treatment adherence,” said Ofer Amram, an assistant professor in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

He says he expects follow-up studies will also look at the positive impact of not requiring patients to come into the clinic every day for their dose, as is still required of some.

“We know at least in Spokane, being the only clinic, people literally drive two hours away from the clinic. And doing it on a daily basis I cannot imagine what does that mean? To the quality of life, right? So, I think it is something we need to measure as well,” he said.

There are about 1,800 methadone clinics nationwide.