Can Telemedicine Help in Opioid Addiction?

To provide better care for people with opioid addictions, some physicians, addiction treatment advocates and policymakers are pushing for easier access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) through telemedicine.

Consulting a health care professional over the phone or through video chat removes the critical barrier of an in-person examination, which can save precious minutes when someone is overdosing, especially in rural areas that are hard hit by the opioid epidemic, according to an article by the Mayo Clinic.

Ramping up access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone has shown to reduce the risk of death for those with opioid use disorders (OUDs) by as much as 50%, according to an article by the Friends Research Institute that was published in the American Journal for Public Health.

However, methadone treatment programs tend to be concentrated in urban areas, and tend to be heavily regulated and require supervision. Naltrexone also has drawbacks, as its effectiveness is still being evaluated and it requires that patients abstain from opioids for 7 to 10 days before starting treatment.

That makes buprenorphine the most likely successful candidate for MAT use and expansion in rural areas, the Mayo Clinic authors said.

In a pilot test in Maryland, 59% of patients who were given buprenorphine were still in treatment after three months and of those, 94% were no longer using opioids illicitly.

In another study in West Virginia, a review of two years of clinical records showed no significant statistical difference in telemedicine buprenorphine treatment programs and face-to-face buprenorphine treatment.

“States should also authorize buprenorphine prescribing by approved providers through telemedicine without in-person examination. In addition, the Substance Abuse andMentalHealth

Services Administration should train providers with a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine in

best telemedicine practices for MAT, as these standards evolve, to ensure both quality and continuity of care in this unique setting,” the Mayo Clinic authors wrote.

“These changes, in combination with a coordinated national strategy and intelligent funding, could help to expand OUD treatment in a meaningful way at the height of the opioid epidemic.”