Research: Pandemic telehealth use linked to decrease opioid overdose threat


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Receiving opioid use disorder-related telehealth care in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic was related to decrease odds of medically handled overdose and higher retention utilizing medicines like methadone and buprenorphine, in accordance with a examine revealed in JAMA Psychiatry

The analysis used information from Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries ages 18 and older who had acquired a analysis for opioid use dysfunction based mostly on ICD-10 codes. It was divided into two teams: a prepandemic cohort of 105, 240 beneficiaries and a pandemic cohort of 70, 538. 

Researchers discovered 19.6% of beneficiaries within the pandemic group acquired OUD-related telehealth providers in the course of the examine interval, in contrast with solely 0.6% of sufferers within the prepandemic cohort. They had been additionally extra prone to entry behavioral health-related digital care at 41%, in contrast with 1.9% within the prepandemic group. Moreover, 12.6% of pandemic beneficiaries accessed medicines for OUD, like methadone, buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone, in contrast with 10.8% of the prepandemic beneficiaries. 

Although the share who skilled a medically handled overdose was related in each teams, the examine discovered receiving OUD-related telehealth was related to elevated odds of continuous to make use of medicines for OUD and lowered odds of overdose. 

“Use of telehealth in the course of the pandemic was related to improved retention in care and lowered odds of medically handled overdose, offering assist for everlasting adoption,” the examine’s authors wrote. “Methods to develop provision of MOUD [medications for opioid use disorder], enhance retention in care and deal with co-occurring bodily and behavioral well being circumstances are urgently wanted within the context of an escalating overdose disaster.”


Although telehealth did enhance entry to medicines for OUD, the researchers famous that solely a small portion of sufferers acquired medicines on 80% or extra of eligible days. 

In addition they discovered racial inequities in entry to care. Non-Hispanic African American beneficiaries had decrease odds of receiving OUD or behavioral health-related telehealth providers and decrease odds for medicine retention. The examine additionally discovered larger odds of overdose amongst sufferers who had been non-Hispanic African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Asian or Pacific Islander.

Nevertheless, researchers mentioned their examine demonstrates telehealth may very well be an vital strategy to ship care to folks fighting opioid use dysfunction. 

“The growth of telehealth providers for folks with substance use issues in the course of the pandemic has helped to handle limitations to accessing medical look after habit all through the nation which have lengthy existed,” Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the Nationwide Institute on Drug Abuse and senior writer of the examine, mentioned in an announcement. “Telehealth is a helpful service and, when coupled with medicines for opioid use dysfunction, could be lifesaving. This examine provides to the proof displaying that expanded entry to those providers might have a longer-term optimistic impression if continued.”


The opioid epidemic continues to be a serious problem for public well being. In response to the CDC, overdose deaths involving opioids elevated from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration loosened rules to permit suppliers to prescribe managed substances, like medicines for opioid use dysfunction, with out assembly with sufferers in particular person in the course of the public well being emergency.

The PHE was prolonged once more earlier this summer season. Well being and Human Companies Secretary Xavier Becerra has promised to offer suppliers 60 days’ discover earlier than it expires. 

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