A new study finds the expanded availability of opioid use disorder-related telehealth services and medications during the pandemic were associated with a lower risk of fatal overdoses among Medicare patients.
Researchers analyzed data from two groups of Medicare patients with opioid use disorder. The first set of data came from more than 105,000 patients, from September 2018 to February 2020. The second set of data came from more than 70,000 patients, from September 2019 to February 2021.
Patients who started receiving care for opioid use disorder during the pandemic, including telehealth services, had a 33% reduced risk of a fatal overdose, HealthDay reports.
Patients who received medications for opioid use disorder from opioid treatment programs and those who received buprenorphine, a medication for opioid use disorder, in office-based settings also had reduced odds of a fatal overdose of 59% and 38% respectively.
Death rates from all causes and overdoses were higher in the pandemic group compared with the pre-pandemic group, but the percentage of deaths due to overdose was similar between the two groups.
“Research continues to indicate that expanded access to telehealth is a safe, effective, and possibly even lifesaving tool for caring for people with opioid use disorder, which may have a longer-term positive impact if continued,” senior study author Wilson Compton, M.D., of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news release.