BONITA SPRINGS, FLA. – Clinician shortages and alarming opioid overdose rates are prompting rural health care centers to turn to telemedicine for delivering treatments for opioid use disorder (OUD). Several studies suggest that these treatments are being delivered effectively, experts said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.
In both Maryland and West Virginia, for example, success using a telehealth approach has been reported recently, said, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Specifically, in rural Maryland, physicians used telemedicine to provide buprenorphine treatment for OUD at a treatment center in August 2015. Researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, looked at the first 177 of the patients treated with the approach. They found that retention in treatment was 91% at 1 month and 57% at 3 months. Of patients still in treatment at 3 months, 86% had urine that was opioid negative, researchers said ().
And in West Virginia, researchers reviewed the records of 100 patients receiving buprenorphine treatment to compare outcomes of those treated with telemedicine and those treated face-to-face. They found no significant differences between the groups in additional substance use, time to achieve 30 days and 90 days of abstinence, or retention rates at 3 months and 1 year ().
In addition, Dr. Moore said, he has had success with home inductions in the northern reaches of Maine. His first home induction involved a 55-year-old veteran with a history of oxycodone and hydrocodone use who used illicit buprenorphine when he could. Dr. Moore said the man was referred to him on a Monday. He called in a prescription for the drug the next day and gave the patient a handout on how to do a home induction. “Then he had a phone check-in, and we followed up on Thursday. It actually worked really well,” Dr. Moore said.
The dearth of buprenorphine providers in northern Maine makes those kinds of arrangements attractive, he said. In Maine’s Piscataquis County, he said, there is one buprenorphine provider for every 2,000 square miles. “We have about 1 in every 5 square miles in New Haven,” he said. “Thinking about the distance you have to travel, it gets to be pretty daunting.”
The ability of clinicians to provide buprenorphine with telemedicine varies by state. Among the resources needed to provide telemedicine services are reliable Internet access and an ability for a patient to consent to the treatment.
Nationwide, 56.3% of rural counties have no buprenorphine provider, according to a recent study, said, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A survey of 1,100 rural providers, results of which were included in that study, found that 48% of them said concerns about substance diversion or misuse were a barrier to providing buprenorphine, and 44% cited a lack of mental health or psychosocial support services.
“Although this country still has a major issue with access to treatment, we see that the access problem is about double in rural areas,” she said. “If you add on the distance issue and time, this becomes an even greater challenge.”
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are now able to obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration waiver that will allow them to prescribe OUD, thanks to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016.