Did drug use increase following COVID-19 relaxation of methadone take-out regulations? 2020 was a complicated year

Gavin Bart, Solvejg Wastvedt, James S. Hodges, Rebecca Rosenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Relaxation of federal regulations for methadone take-out dosing during the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. The impact of this change on drug use is unknown. This study explores the impact of the federal take-out variance on drug use in one urban opioid treatment program as measured by drug testing.

METHODS: This study collected drug test results from 613 patients receiving methadone from July 2020, following COVID-19-related take-out dose adjustments, and July 2019 for comparison. Using a generalized linear mixed model, we computed the average estimated probability of a positive drug test for each year for each take-out phase. To isolate the effect of changing take-out, we removed the main effect of year, while retaining the main effect of take-out phase and the interaction between year and phase.

RESULTS: The percent of drug tests positive for opiates, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamine was greater in July 2020 than in July 2019 (p < 0.001 for each), while the percent of tests negative for methadone increased (p < 0.001). Oxycodone, barbiturate, and cocaine positive tests remained stable. In a separate analysis of opioid and non-opioid test results, take-out phase was associated with both opioid and non-opioid positive results (p < 0.001, each outcome). The association of take-out phase with opioid and non-opioid positive results differed in the two years (year-by-phase interaction p < 0.025, each outcome). After removing the year main effect, the rate of positive tests was lower in 2020 for the smallest number of take-out doses, higher for a moderate number of take-out doses, and about the same for the highest number of take-out doses.

CONCLUSIONS: Positive opioid and non-opioid drug tests increased following the federal variance allowing more methadone take-out doses, but these findings cannot fully be attributed to alterations in the take-out schedule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108590
JournalJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Early online dateAug 6 2021
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • COVID-19
  • Drug use
  • Federal regulations
  • Methadone
  • Take-out

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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