At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government began allowing patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) to connect with their health care providers via telehealth (through the internet or phone) to receive buprenorphine—an FDA-approved medication proved to reduce overdose deaths.
This remote treatment access to buprenorphine was a game-changer for people seeking care: It allowed more patients—including racial and ethnic minorities, veterans, people experiencing homelessness, those living in rural areas, and people involved in the criminal justice system—to start and stay in treatment for OUD. Health care providers reported that remote prescribing made it easier and more convenient for their patients to access care, especially those who lacked transportation or had work or child care responsibilities. And increased remote prescribing of buprenorphine hasn’t led to increases in diversion or overdose deaths.
But health care providers’ ability to start and maintain patients on buprenorphine via telehealth may be short-lived. Federal laws and regulations that allow telehealth prescribing of buprenorphine treatment are temporary, and unless policymakers act, patients who started treatment remotely will eventually have to return to in-person care.
Pew advocates for policies that permanently allow patients with OUD to start lifesaving treatment via telehealth.