HIV, infectious disease experts call for policy change amidst pandemic

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Citing a rise in serious infections linked to injection drug use, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and HIV Medicine Association’s Infectious Diseases and Opioid Use Disorder Working Group are calling for urgent policy changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because the pandemic has limited access to syringe services and substance use treatment programs, the group said, those suffering from opioid use disorder and substance use disorder were more susceptible to infection and death due to overdose. The groups’ policy paper “Infectious Diseases and Injection Drug Use: Public Health Burden and Response,” in The Journal of Infectious Diseases highlights the issues surrounding the pandemic’s effect on syringe services and substance use treatment programs across the country, and what it means for surveillance, treatment, and recovery of those with opioid use disorder.

According to the policy piece, one study found that 75 percent of syringe services programs, which provide sterile syringes and equipment to prevent infections, as well as overdose prevention, HIV and hepatitis C testing, had closed one or more of their sites due to the pandemic, and that more than 40 percent had restricted their services.

The IDSA and HIVMA recommended several policy changes that they said are critical now, as counties across the country are reporting an increase in drug use and drug overdoses.

The recommendations include an increase in federal funding for syringe services programs; the development of a national surveillance system to report and track injection drug use-related infections; increased funding and reimbursement for telehealth and other care delivery models; identifying opioid use and substance abuse disorders while individuals are incarcerated, and integrating treatment into their time in the criminal justice system while initiating Medicaid coverage for them 30 days prior to their release to coordinate continuing treatment care during their transition back into the community.

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