BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — A new study done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests the expansion of ‘telehealth’ programs plays an important part in reducing the risk of drug overdoses and keeping people in treatment.
The term ‘telehealth’ often refers to the distribution of health services and health-related information — including long-distance consultation with medical professionals, medical education, counseling, and intervention — via social technology such as phones and computers.
A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry noted that during the pandemic, individuals with opioid use disorders (OUDs) who took part in telehealth services not only remained in treatment longer than usual but were also less likely to suffer drug-related overdoses. An increase in individuals taking MOUD (medications for opioid use disorder) was also reported. The key takeaways from the study include the following information:
- When two groups of Medicare beneficiaries (one that received OUD care before the COVID-19 pandemic and one that received OUD during the pandemic) were compared, people in the pandemic group were much more likely to receive OUD-related telehealth services compared to the pre-pandemic group (19.6% compared to the pre-pandemic’s 0.6%). They were also more likely to receive MOUD services (12.6% compared to pre-pandemic’s 10.8%)
- Among the COVID-19 pandemic group, receipt of OUD-related telehealth services was associated with significantly better MOUD treatment retention and lower risk of medically-treated overdoses.
“Strategies to increase access to care and MOUD receipt and retention are urgently needed, and the results of this study add to the growing research documenting the benefits of expanding the use of telehealth services for people with OUD,” said the acting director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC and study’s lead author Dr. Christopher M. Jones in a press release. “The findings from this collaborative study also highlight the importance of working across agencies to identify successful approaches to address the escalating overdose crisis.”
While successful health services were reported in the study, and telehealth programs have been associated with reduced overdoses and increased treatment, it was also noted that some groups — particularly non-Hispanic black persons and individuals living in the southern United States — were less likely to receive these services. The study and CDC state that this information further highlights the need for more efforts to eliminate the ‘digital divide’ and reduce inequalities in access to care and services.
“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 have long existed,” said deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and senior author of the study Wilson Compton, M.D., in the release. “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.”
If you or someone close to you needs 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 website.