A new study has found that the use of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to reduce the risk of drug overdoses. The study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry, compared two groups of Medicare recipients with opioid use disorder and found that those who received telehealth services and medications to assist with opioid addiction had a lower likelihood of fatal drug overdoses.
Patients receiving telehealth services lowered their overdose risk by 33%. Those who received medication in office-based settings also saw their odds of a fatal overdose fall by 59%, while those treated with buprenorphine in an office saw their odds fall 38%.
The study’s findings suggest that telehealth plays a significant role in combatting the opioid crisis and reducing fatal overdoses – especially in rural areas where access to healthcare services can be limited. In a state like Pennsylvania, where more than 5,300 people died of an overdose in 2021, expanding telehealth to reach more people who struggle with drug addiction could save lives, researchers concluded.
Lead Author Christopher M. Jones, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, said in a press release that the study’s results add to the growing research documenting the benefits of expanding the use of telehealth services for people with opioid use disorder, as well as the need to improve retention and access to medication treatment for opioid use disorder.
However, the study also revealed that only one in five Medicare beneficiaries received telehealth services for their disorder, and only one in eight received medication. The press release noted that these findings underscore the need for continued expansion of these potentially life-saving interventions across clinical settings.
Nationally, the opioid crisis remains a significant problem, and in a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing, officials from the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs noted that single-county authorities, the county-level arms of DDAP, will receive $25 million for drug prevention services.