Increased Use of Telehealth for Opioid Use Disorder Services During COVID-19 Pandemic Associated with Reduced Risk of Overdose

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“The expansion of telehealth services for people with substance use disorders during the pandemic has helped to address barriers to accessing medical care for addiction throughout the country that has long existed,” said Wilson Compton, M.D., M.P.E, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and senior author of the study. “Telehealth is a valuable service and when coupled with medications for opioid use disorder can be lifesaving. This study adds to the evidence showing that expanded access to these services could have a longer-term positive impact if continued.”

Although the study did find that receiving OUD-related telehealth services was generally associated with beneficial outcomes, the study also determined some groups were less likely to receive these services, including non-Hispanic black persons and those living in the South. These outcomes underscore the need for future efforts to focus on eliminating the digital divide and reducing underlying inequities in access to care and services.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was an unexpected shock to the US healthcare system, which consequently offered a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of healthcare delivery methods on health outcomes among those who were newly diagnosed with OUD. The findings showed that telehealth improved the receipt and retention of MOUD, suggesting that this method of healthcare delivery may address common barriers to OUD-related treatment such as transportation and perceived stigma associated with OUD,” said lead analyst Carla Shoff, Ph.D., social science research analyst at CMS.

This study serves as a supportive resource towards maintaining access to telehealth services for patients with OUD as it demonstrates that Medicare beneficiaries and providers used the new flexibilities related to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic and that these services were associated with positive impacts on patient outcomes such as MOUD treatment receipt, retention, and risk for medically treated overdose. 

Find Treatment for Substance Use Disorder, including Opioid Use Disorder 

If you or someone close to youneeds help for a substance use disorder, talk to your doctor or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or go to SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services  

Additional Resources: 

  • Local health centers for substance abuse 
  • Buprenorphine Treatment Practitioner  
  • Opioid Treatment Program Directory 
  • Decisions in Recovery: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder(Handbook) 

If you have questions about any medicines, call the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

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