Study: Using telehealth during pandemic is associated with reduced risk of opioid overdose

Receiving telehealth related to opioid use disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with lower rates of medically treated overdose and better retention of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry Department.

The study used data from Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries 18 years of age and older who had been diagnosed with an opioid use disorder based on ICD-10 codes. It is divided into two groups: a pre-pandemic group of 105,240 beneficiaries and a pandemic group of 70,538.

The researchers found that 19.6% of beneficiaries in the pandemic group received OUD-related telemedicine services during the study period, compared with just 0.6% of patients in the pre-pandemic cohort. . They were also more likely to access behavioral health-related virtual care at 41%, compared with 1.9% in the pre-pandemic group. Additionally, 12.6% of pandemic beneficiaries used OUD medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone, compared with 10.8% of pre-pandemic beneficiaries.

Although the percentage of medically-treated overdose experiences was similar in both groups, the study found that receiving OUD-related telemedicine was associated with an increased rate of continuation. use drugs to treat OUD and reduce overdose rates.

The study’s authors write: “The use of telehealth during a pandemic is associated with improved access to care and reduced rates of medically treated overdose, supporting permanent adoptions. forever”. “MOUD Offered Expansion Strategies [medications for opioid use disorder]Strengthening maintenance care and addressing co-occurring physical and behavioral health conditions is urgently needed in light of the escalating overdose crisis. “


Although telehealth has increased access to medication for OUD, the researchers note that only a small fraction of patients receive the drug for 80 percent or more of the eligible days.

They also see racial disparities in access to care. Non-Hispanic African-American beneficiaries have lower rates of receiving OUDs or behavioral health-related telemedicine services and lower medication retention rates. The study also showed higher rates of overdose in patients who were non-Hispanic African-Americans, American Indians or Alaska Natives, and Asians or Pacific Islanders.

However, the researchers say their study demonstrates telehealth can be an important way to care for people struggling with an opioid use disorder.

“The expansion of telehealth services for people with substance use disorders during the pandemic has helped address barriers to accessing medical care for addicts around the world. water has been around for a long time,” Dr Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and senior author of the study, said in a statement. “Telehealth is a valuable service, and when combined with opioid use disorder medication, it can be life-saving. This study adds to the growing evidence of expanded access to these services. could have a more lasting positive effect if continued.”


The opioid epidemic continues to be a major public health challenge. According to CDCThe number of deaths from opioid overdose has increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Drug Enforcement Administration relaxed regulations that allow providers to prescribe controlled substances, such as opioid use disorder drugs, without seeing patients in person during a public health emergency.

PHE has been renewed again early this summer. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has promised to notify service providers 60 days before the expiration date.

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