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Pharmacy News

Dr Marie Sartain
/ Categories: APhA News

Telehealth services during pandemic seemed to reduce fatal overdose risk

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry on March 29, 2023, shows that the wider availability of opioid use disorder (OUD)–related telehealth services and medications during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a reduced likelihood of fatal drug overdoses among Medicare beneficiaries.

“The results of this study add to the growing research documenting the benefits of expanding the use of telehealth services for people with opioid use disorder, as well as the need to improve retention and access to medication treatment for opioid use disorder,” said lead author of the study Christopher Jones, PharmD, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at CDC. “The findings form this collaborative study also highlight the importance of working across agencies to identify successfully strategies to address and get ahead of the constantly evolving overdose crisis.”

For the study, researchers from CDC, CMS, and NIH examined data from 2 cohorts of Medicare beneficiaries to assess the use of OUD-related telehealth services, use of medications for OUD, and fatal overdoses before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They found that Medicare beneficiaries who commenced a new episode of OUD-related care during the pandemic and received OUD-related telehealth services had a 33% lower risk of fatal drug overdose. Medicare beneficiaries who received medications for OUD from opioid treatment programs or who received buprenorphine in office-based settings also experienced a reduced likelihood of a fatal drug overdose of 59% and 38%, respectively.

While all-cause mortality and drug overdose mortality were higher in the pandemic cohort compared with the prepandemic cohort, the percentage of deaths due to a drug overdose were similar between the 2 cohorts.

The study authors noted that just 1 in 5 Medicare beneficiaries in the pandemic cohort received OUD-related telehealth services, and only 1 in 8 received medications for OUD. These findings suggest the need for continued use of these potentially lifesaving interventions across clinical settings.

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