Telehealth Is An Effective Tool For Opioid-Use Disorder Treatment
The United States is facing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls an Opioid Overdose Epidemic. As of 2021, the CDC reports that over 80 percent of overdose deaths in the United States are due to opioids. This is an issue that is so widespread in the U.S. that virtually every community has been impacted by the presence of opioids and the destruction they leave in their wake. Preventive treatment is essential in reducing the harm of opioids, and telehealth is shown to be beneficial in supporting this goal.
Through telehealth programs, those undergoing opioid-use disorder (OUD) treatment are reported to stay in treatment longer, were more likely to receive their medications than those attending traditional, in-person appointments, and as a result, faced a 33 percent lower risk of fatal drug overdose. This means that with telehealth intervention, more OUD patients can consistently access their appointments and are offered a better chance of obtaining essential preventative care.
Wilson Compton, M.D., deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, agrees, saying, “Research continues to indicate that expanded access to telehealth is a safe, effective, and possibly even lifesaving tool for caring for people with opioid use disorder, which may have a longer-term positive impact if continued.”
Additionally, deaths from drug overdose disproportionately impact underserved communities and ethnic groups, such as American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and Black Americans. Telehealth is particularly beneficial to providing access to patients of these groups. By integrating permanent telehealth access into care systems, more patients will be able to get the indispensable care they need.
Patients and providers agree that telehealth is beneficial for OUD treatment. One study from Yale School of Public Health found that one in six OUD treatment providers reported telehealth to be more effective than in-person OUD treatment. Of the over 1,000 physicians treating OUD interviewed by Yale School of Public Health, six out of seven supported permanent telehealth access. Tamara Beetham, MPH a PhD student in health policy and management at Yale School of Public Health amplifies the need for permanent access saying, “Continued flexibility would allow more individuals to access life-saving treatment.”
Further, a collaborative study conducted by five medical schools and hospitals in the Boston area studied over 11,000 patients and found telehealth programs to be comparable to traditional care for OUD treatment, serving as a much-needed option for those who are unable to regularly attend in-person appointments. A social worker interviewed by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania reported their own experience that echoes these findings, saying, “For the patients who’ve been maintained in care, and that’s the majority of them, by and large they’ve really liked [telehealth]. I think it allows them a lot of flexibility. Some of my patients are parents to younger children and so childcare was always an issue…[Patients] would often tell me they would miss an appointment because they couldn’t get off of work. So, being able to kind of see their provider and see their treatment team without it being so disruptive, I think has been overall positive.”
With the number of opioid-related deaths continuing to rise, the evidence is clear: increased access to OUD treatment is essential to providing proactive care for opioid users and reducing the risk of fatal overdose. Telehealth is a vital asset in getting those in need the treatment they deserve. Congress must act now to create permanent protections to ensure lasting access to this life-saving care.
Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE.
ABOUT TELEHEALTH ACCESS FOR AMERICA
Telehealth Access for America (TAFA) is a public education campaign supported by leaders in health care committed to better care, expanded patient choice, and protecting access to critical telehealth services. Learn more and take action today at www.telehealthaccessforamerica.org.