Opioid substitution therapy with buprenorphine-naloxone during COVID-19 outbreak in India: Sharing our experience and interim standard operating procedure

Indian J Psychiatry. 2020 May-Jun;62(3):322-326. doi: 10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_295_20. Epub 2020 May 15.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. It has affected most countries of the world, including India. Both the disease and the unavoidable national response to it have posed unique challenges to our health-care system. A particular vulnerable group of patients is those with opioid dependence maintained on opioid substitution therapy (OST). These patients are pharmacologically dependent on the OST medication (buprenorphine, buprenorphine-naloxone combination [BNX], and methadone) for their healthy functioning and recovery. COVID-19 outbreak, lock-down, and difficult access to medical care, all are likely to induce stress and withdrawal, which is a potential risk for relapse among individuals with opioid dependence, who are anyway more vulnerable due to social, housing, living, and medical conditions. In this context, it is essential to re-strategize the existing OST services to adapt to the challenging circumstances. In this communication, we share our experience and formulate interim standard operating procedures (SOPs) for running a hospital-based OST service utilizing take-home BNX. The challenges, principles to meet the challenges, and interim SOPs are shared as being currently practiced in our center. Individual institutes, agencies, hospitals, and clinics running OST service with BNX can adapt these SOPs according to their characteristics, needs, demand, and resources; so long as, the basic principles are adhered to.

Keywords: Buprenorphine-naloxone; coronavirus disease 2019; opioid substitution therapy; pandemic; standard operating procedures.