Research: Pandemic telehealth use linked to decrease opioid overdose danger

woman doctor telehealth GettyImages 1188431778 1

woman doctor telehealth GettyImages 1188431778 1

Receiving opioid use disorder-related telehealth care through 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 research revealed in JAMA Psychiatry

The analysis used knowledge from Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries ages 18 and older who had acquired a prognosis for opioid use dysfunction primarily based 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 companies through the research 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 proportion who skilled a medically handled overdose was related in each teams, the research 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 through the pandemic was related to improved retention in care and lowered odds of medically handled overdose, offering assist for everlasting adoption,” the research’s authors wrote. “Methods to broaden provision of MOUD [medications for opioid use disorder], improve retention in care and tackle co-occurring bodily and behavioral well being circumstances are urgently wanted within the context of an escalating overdose disaster.”


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

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

Nonetheless, researchers mentioned their research demonstrates telehealth might be an necessary approach to ship care to individuals battling opioid use dysfunction. 

“The growth of telehealth companies for individuals with substance use issues through the pandemic has helped to deal with 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 creator of the research, mentioned in a press release. “Telehealth is a invaluable service and, when coupled with medicines for opioid use dysfunction, may be lifesaving. This research provides to the proof displaying that expanded entry to those companies may have a longer-term optimistic affect if continued.”


The opioid epidemic continues to be a significant problem for public well being. Based on 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 laws to permit suppliers to prescribe managed substances, like medicines for opioid use dysfunction, with out assembly with sufferers in individual through the public well being emergency.

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

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