Blog Post

Insight: Addressing Opioid Use Disorder During COVID-19

By: Laura Summers

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

Right now it seems that all anyone can talk about is COVID-19, and rightly so. We are in the midst of a life-threatening public health crisis that has shut down our economy and forced Americans to change the way we do business, interact with our families, and live our everyday lives. And while the magnitude of these changes cannot be overstated, it is important to remember that our country and state continue to deal with other public health issues amidst COVID-19, issues that result in thousands of deaths per year and impact individuals, families, and local economies.

Just over 67,000 Americans died from a drug-related overdose in 2018.[i] Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in Utah,[ii] and opioid-related drug overdoses are a significant contributor to the rise in drug overdose deaths in recent history.

Fortunately, opioid use disorder (OUD) can be treated. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is “a combination of psychosocial therapy and U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved medication”[iii] and has positive, evidence-based effects on OUD.[iv] However, large-scale adoption of MAT is still relatively new, and system gaps and barriers limit both access to and availability of this treatment.

On April 13, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, released a study of MAT in Utah. This study (1) assesses the current availability of MAT in Utah using an inventory of medication treatment options in the state, and (2) highlights gaps in services, barriers to providing