Patients who have become addicted to opioids (like oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid, heroin, and fentanyl) often struggle to find treatment services that provide evidenced-based medication, like buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone). (1,2,3)
Unfortunately, only 10-14% of patients with addiction to opioids receive treatment, and there is a great need to increase access to care. (4)
JT, a 42 year-old male who became addicted to Percocet, describes his experience: “It took me a while to realize how much the Perocet was taking over my life. Then, when I finally reached out for help, I had a hard time finding someone to prescribe me Suboxone. I found a few providers but they were not even close to where I lived.”
While JT's experience is tragic, it's also commonplace. Fortunately, access to Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) is expanding through telehealth services, making it easier than ever to treat addiction. These services use audio and video phone technologies to deliver addiction treatment to patients while eliminating person-to-person contact and associated travel.
Preliminary studies suggest: YES! Though there have not been many studies comparing telehealth services to in-person treatment, those that have been conducted suggest that telehealth services may improve patients’ ability to stay in recovery (also known as “treatment retention”) and may increase access to evidence-based medications, like buprenorphine, especially in urban, rural, and remote areas. (5,6)
Other studies suggest similar relapse rates and similar abilities to build a meaningful relationship with a therapist, compared to in-person visits. (7) This means that choosing telehealth over traditional treatments does not compromise the support patients receive, nor does it increase the risk of relapsing.
When you receive MAT through telehealth services, there are several benefits:
When patients reach out for help, they are much less likely to get a same-day appointment through in-person programs. However, with telehealth services, programs are much more likely to be able to meet patients’ needs by providing same-day or next-day appointments by tapping into a large network of providers across the country-- not just in the patients’ city or town.
Telehealth services often provide instructions on how to start buprenorphine and any associated materials, as well as support specialists to guide patients through the home induction process so patients feel well supported.
For example, patients can collect urine or oral swab samples in their homes and share the results with their providers during the telehealth appointment.
With increased access to care (both providers and medications), increased convenience, quick-starts, and support services, telehealth services benefit patients and providers.
Of course, there are also downsides. Patients may miss the social connections they create during in-person individual or group-based sessions . They may find that leaving their house and showing up to an in-person visit holds them more accountable and gets them out of the monotony of their day. Patients also may struggle to adapt to new phone and computer-based technologies. And, those without access to phones, computers, and wifi connections or those who are illiterate may not have access, which may preclude patients with limited resources.
Telehealth companies can increase patients’ abilities to use new technologies by investing in associated staffing. For example, providing clinical support staff to assist patients in downloading new programs and following up to ensure they know how to use them can help patients more easily “uptake” these virtual-based formats.
Telehealth services are certainly changing the landscape of providing easy-to-access and timely evidence-based medication treatment for opioid dependence.
To learn more about the success rates and safety of Bicycle Health’s telemedicine addiction treatment in comparison to other common treatment options, call us at (844) 943-2514 or schedule an appointment here.
Header Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.
(1) Dupouy, J., Palmaro, A., Fatséas, M., Auriacombe, M., Micallef, J., Oustric, S., & Lapeyre- Mestre, M.Mortality associated with time in and out of buprenorphine treatment in French office- based general practice: A 7-year cohort study. Annals of Family Medicine. 2017; 15(4), 355– 358.6.
(2) Evans, E., Li, L., Min, J., Huang, D., Urada, D., Liu, L., Hser, Y., & Nosyk, B. Mortality among individuals accessing pharmacological treatment for opioid dependence in California, 2006– 2010. Addiction.2015; 110(6), 996–1005.7.
(3) Sordo, L., Barrio, G., Bravo, M.J., Indave, B.I., Degenhardt, L., Wiessing, L., Ferri, M., & Pastor-Barriuso, R. Mortality risk during and after opioid substitution treatment: Systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. British Medical Journal. 2017; 57, j1550.8.
(4) Lipari, RN, Park-Lee, E, and Van Horn, S. America’s need for and receipt of substance use treatment in 2015 . The CBHSQ Report: September 29, 2016. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
(5) Lin, L., Casteel, D., Shigekawa, E., Weyrich, M, Roby, D., & McMenamin, S.Telemedicine- delivered treatment interventions for substance use disorders: A systematic review. Journal ofSubstance Abuse Treatment. 2019; 101: 38-49.
(6) Yang, Y., Weintraub, E., & Haffajee, R. Telemedicine's role in addressing the opioid epidemic. Mayo Clinical Proceedings. 2018; 93(9): 1177–1180.
(7) Lin L, Casteel D, Shigekawa E et al. Telemedicine-delivered treatment interventions for substance use disorders: A systematic review.
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2019; (101) 38-49.