Innovations Impacting Opioid Use Disorder in 2023
Amidst a devastating opioid crisis marked by a six-fold increase in drug overdose deaths since 1999, the CHIME Opioid Task Force, established in 2018, is mobilizing healthcare IT leaders to combat this escalating epidemic driven by reduced intervention access, heightened stress levels, and shifting drug patterns, particularly the prevalence of synthetic opioids.
The task force’s efforts, including the integration of telemedicine, aim to address the opioid crisis and curtail the alarming surge in opioid-related fatalities, with over 1,500 deaths occurring weekly, as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics.
During CHIME23 Fall Forum Opioid Sunrise Session (11/10 7am PST) Sean Kelly, MD; Scott Weiner, MD, MPH, and Greg Polston, MD (co-chairs and members of the Clinical Advisory subcommittee, respectively) will share leading practices with attendees and show how the power of data can amplify, and force-multiply our initiatives, in addressing the opioid crisis.
Telemedicine is now being held up as having the potential for reducing “barriers to treatment access” as well as expanding “treatment opportunities to patients in rural locations or with limited transportation,” according to an article in Psychiatric News in October 2023.
Dr. Scott Weiner, an emergency physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Director of Research for Bicycle Health, the largest telehealth company for the treatment of opioid use disorder, shared some of the history behind this development: “Since the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency permitted prescription of buprenorphine without an in-person evaluation, the telehealth model of opioid use disorder treatment has exploded,” Dr. Weiner said. Telemedicine reduces stigma, is more convenient, and provides access to treatment in areas where it previously was not available, he explained.
However, Dr. Weiner cautions, “It’s not a panacea solution as it won’t be appropriate for all patients, and the DEA is still in the process of determining how to allow telehealth buprenorphine while minimizing diversion; but there is now extensive evidence that telehealth is effective treatment for patients with opioid use disorder. It’s a solid example of how technology can be leveraged to address the overdose epidemic.”
Dr. Sean Kelly pointed out that “overdose and death rates continue to rise dramatically,” largely due to “synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and car-fentanyl, which can be hundreds or even thousands of times more powerful than other narcotics.”
With such synthetic drugs often fatal after a single dose, Dr. Kelly says it’s essential to get the reversal agent called “Naloxone” into communities where fentanyl and its cousins are running rampant. “This drug is lifesaving and now even easier to use, with intra-nasal and injectable forms available,” Dr. Kelly said. “Using the power of IT to automate Naloxone prescriptions and instructions for every patient at risk of overdose and death is one very practical, effective and achievable intervention that we can do now to significantly reduce morbidity and mortality from opioid overdoses.”