Pandemic telehealth reforms increased access to opioid-use disorder meds
Pandemic-era reforms allowed more Medicare beneficiaries to use telehealth to obtain opioid-use disorder drugs, stay in treatment and avoid overdoses, a new JAMA Psychiatry study found.
Why it matters: The vast majority of people who need treatment for a substance-use disorder don't get it, and the researchers fear the addiction crisis could worsen if COVID-19 allowances on telehealth and prescribing aren't made permanent.
What they found: Researchers compared two cohorts of Medicare beneficiaries before and during the pandemic and found that more people during the pandemic had access to treatments like methadone, buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone and had lower odds of having to be treated for overdoses.
- But very few people were still receiving treatment 80 days after initiating it.
- About one in eight Medicare patients studied received telehealth services for their opioid-use disorder during the pandemic, compared to one in 800 pre-pandemic.
- Black people had lower odds of getting telehealth treatment for their opioid-use disorder and staying in treatment, and overdose rates were higher among Black people, Native Americans, Asian people and Pacific Islanders.
Go deeper: Treatment for opioid-use disorder and other substance-use disorders was heavily regulated prior to the pandemic, from in-person prescribing requirements to limited treatment center locations.
- Some researchers fear that the expiration of pandemic reforms with the end of the public health emergency will reverse progress and are advocating for telehealth and take-home dosing to continue.
- "This study adds to the evidence showing that expanded access to these services could have a longer-term positive impact if continued," Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and study author, said in a news release.