Reimagining patient-centered care in opioid treatment programs: Lessons from the Bronx during COVID-19

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Mar:122:108219. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108219. Epub 2020 Dec 3.


Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) operate within a rigid set of clinical guidelines and regulations that specify the number of required OTP visits for supervised administration of methadone. To ensure physical distancing in light of COVID-19, the federal government loosened regulations to allow for additional flexibility. As OTP providers in the Bronx, NY, caring for more than 3600 patients in the epicenter of both the overdose and COVID-19 pandemics, we describe how our clinical practice changed with COVID-19. We halted toxicology testing, and to promote physical distancing and prevent interruptions in access to treatment for medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), we drastically increased unsupervised take-home doses of MOUD. Within two weeks, we reduced the proportion of patients with 5-6 OTP visits per week from 47.2% to 9.4%. To guide treatment decision-making, we shifted focus from toxicology tests to other patient-centered measures, such as engagement in care and patient goals. In the initial three months, our patients experienced six nonfatal overdoses, no fatal overdoses, and 20 deaths attributable to COVID-19. This experience provides an opportunity to re-imagine care in OTPs going forward. We advocate that OTPs rely less on toxicology testing and more on the other patient-centered measures to guide decisions about distribution of take-home doses of MOUD. To minimize financial risk to OTPs and facilitate their transition to a more flexible model of care, we advocate for the reassessment of OTP reimbursement models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Buprenorphine
  • COVID-19*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Drug Overdose / epidemiology
  • Drug Overdose / mortality
  • Drug Overdose / prevention & control
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Methadone / therapeutic use
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Narcotic-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Narcotic-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • New York City
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment
  • Pandemics*
  • Patient-Centered Care / organization & administration*
  • Physical Distancing
  • Substance Abuse Detection


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone