An increased use of telehealth services for treating opioid use disorder (OUD) during the pandemic led to a lower risk of overdose, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed data from almost 176,000 Medicare patients from September 2018 to February 2021, HealthDay reports. They compared parents who received OUD-related care before the pandemic and those who received it during the pandemic. They found patients in the pandemic group were more likely to receive OUD-related telehealth services compared to the pre-pandemic group (19.6% vs. 0.6%). Patients treated during the pandemic were also more likely to receive medication to treat OUD (12.6% vs. 10.8%).
Among the pandemic group, receiving OUD-related telehealth services was associated with better adherence to medications and lower risk of medically treated overdose compared with those not receiving OUD-related telehealth 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,” senior study author Wilson Compton, M.D., deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news 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.”