No communities have been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than the low-income neighborhoods throughout New York City. Those afflicted with opioid use disorder have been hit even harder; reduced access to medical care and support has increased the risk of relapses and overdoses.
The Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) and The New York Community Trust made efforts to aid those communities with a combined $750,000 in funding for Housing Works — a program that aims to improve retention and adherence to medications for opioid use disorder for people at risk for overdose, and serves over 12,000 New Yorkers annually.
Since its founding in 2018, FORE has made strides in the treatment and prevention of opioid use disorder by supporting partners advancing patient-centered, innovative, evidence-based solutions.
“We need to work comprehensively from a number of different fronts,” said Karen Scott, president of FORE. “Finding the best way to treat people with opioid disorder, and then learning from that to inform better policy to sustain that treatment access, as well as educating health care professionals and the public is our mission.”
The funding came at the right moment for Housing Works, an organization founded in 1990 with the mission of serving those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, and those suffering from opioid use disorder. “Our population is some of the hardest hit by coronavirus” said Bethany Davidson, project manager at Housing Works. “Our clients are at a lower socioeconomic level, people of color, the homeless population, drug users. We needed to move quickly to be able to serve our population.”
Coronavirus has exacerbated disparities in communities and made it difficult to serve those in need of treatment. “Many clinics reduced their hours or closed because of concerns about spreading the virus. Many people were staying home or were scared to go out in terms of protecting themselves. People with addiction are a high risk population if they get the virus,” said FORE’s Scott.
Housing Works was able to respond to the pandemic so quickly because national and state governments lifted regulations on MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment.)
“Allowing for telehealth, longer prescription periods, allowing people to come in and get refills and eliminating the requirement of drug testing at each visit has been instrumental in allowing us to keep working with our clients,” said Davidson.
Over-the-phone and virtual doctor appointments have made health care more accessible and readily available to a larger demographic and allowed for more expeditious treatment. Clients have felt more comfortable with these new policies, as eliminating the requirement for frequent drug tests has made them feel less scrutinized, without unwanted conversations about drug use.
These changes have raised question of whether there might be lasting changes in opioid treatment following the coronavirus. “Some of the work we’ve been doing with Housing Works is to make sure that we’re learning from these changes,” said Scott, “because they may very well help us build a better treatment delivery system going forward, beyond the epidemic.”
“I would certainly hope that some of these policies would be maintained,” Davidson added. “We’re trying to make sure we’re looking into the data and see what works for our clients.”
Moving forward, Housing Works is looking to continue innovative problem-solving and provide the best care for those afflicted with chronic illnesses. Davidson looks forward to continuing work with FORE, saying “The collaboration with FORE foundation has been so helpful, and they have this collaborative perspective that I appreciate. They connect us with other grant recipients if they have something that we would like to build up.”
“Some of the work we’ve been doing with Housing Works ... may very well help us build a better treatment delivery system going forward, beyond the epidemic.” Karen Scott, president of FORE