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Methadone regulation exemptions are helping patients fighting opioid addiction

The COVID pandemic helped spark the change that is breaking down barriers to treatment.

LITTLETON, Colo. — COVID-19 has caused us to rethink how we do things in many areas of our lives, including how we treat opioid addiction. 

During the pandemic, regulations surrounding methadone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, have been relaxed. 

Dr. Andreas Edrich, Chief Medical Officer for the Denver Recovery Group, said it has helped his patients. 

"We can no longer afford to play Russian roulette and be hampered by restrictions," he said. 

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Edrich said medical providers should decide what a patient needs, not government and regulatory agencies.

"The main thing really is we're dealing with regulations that were set up decades ago based on more protection, fear and caution," he said.

Current regulations require seeing methadone patients face-to-face and having them take the methadone dose on-site. 

During the pandemic, federal and state partners allowed exemptions to these rules. For Edrich, the results have been positive.

"We get more patients in more quickly," he said. "We're getting them treated quicker. We're more efficient. We're keeping them at their workplace longer." 

Using telemedicine instead of in-office visits has helped. Doctors can also decide whether a patient can be trusted to take methadone at home, instead of at the clinic.

It's breaking down barriers to access treatment.

"They come in for dosing. They come in for urine drug testing. So we have them monitoring there for sure," Edrich said. "But I don't want them getting fired because they took three bus transfers to get to the clinic at 5 in the morning and then have to take three more bus transfers to get to their job."

He said fentanyl use is rising and they're already hurting for physicians. Edrich said easing restrictions and making things more patient-centric will save lives.

RELATED: Denver sees increased demand for free fentanyl testing strips, naloxone

"I want them in their kids' lives. I want them in their families' lives," he said. "That's how they're going to reintegrate into society, by being together."