Dependence on opioid drugs is associated with a range of health and social problems that affect individual drug users, their family and friends and the wider public.

Impacts of COVID-19 on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment

In March 2020, a series of measures (including the shutdown of non-essential businesses, public gatherings and travel) were put in place across Australia to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 (Department of Health 2020). These restrictions introduced several new challenges for prescribers and people accessing opioid pharmacotherapy treatment, including:

  • maintaining effective social distancing measures, particularly where people are required to visit their dosing site daily
  • regulatory changes to support treatment delivery.

In response to these restrictions, jurisdictions have made some temporary changes to opioid pharmacotherapy treatment guidelines and regulations. The aim is to support flexible treatment delivery and maintain the health and safety of patients and prescribers. While the implementation of these amended guidelines and regulations do vary across jurisdictions, changes to pharmacotherapy treatment in the context of COVID-19 have included:

  • extending prescription duration
  • increasing the number of takeaway doses
  • arranging home delivery of medication
  • considering changing clients to buprenorphine long acting injections wherever appropriate
  • introducing third party collections for clients who may require self isolation
  • alleviating permit requirements for doctors taking over scripts for other doctors.

It is not yet known how COVID-19 will impact opioid pharmacotherapy treatment long-term.

Buprenorphine long acting injections

Recently, two depot forms of buprenorphine (Buvidal® and Sublocade®) were registered for use in the treatment of opioid dependence across Australia. These long acting injections (described in this report as Buprenorphine LAI) will be reported where possible for the first time in the NOPSAD 2020 collection.

While jurisdictional differences in the delivery of buprenorphine LAI do apply, there are potential benefits of this treatment in the context of COVID-19. This is because buprenorphine LAI is injected into the tissue under the skin either weekly or monthly, reducing the need for patients to visit their dosing site on a daily basis.