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Technology advances substance use disorder treatment

COVID fast-tracked digital health to support substance use disorder treatment, including telehealth, drug tracking, and patient outcomes.
By admin
Apr 17, 2023, 4:58 PM

The opioid epidemic had its hooks in society long before the pandemic. While covid lockdowns seemingly brought everything to a halt, opioid and substance use disorder (OUD/SUD) tightened its grip on our local communities. The country’s largest non-profit addiction treatment provider, Gateway Foundation, saw 1,500 patients per week coming into their facilities for outpatient addiction services.

When pandemic precautions deemed in-person services as high-risk (and a logistical nightmare), their five- to 10-year plan for rolling out telehealth treatment was realized in a single week. Virtualized services enabled patients to continue their treatment from the safety and convenience of home. And those living in rural areas or unwilling to seek treatment due to stigma concerns, gained access to private on-demand addiction treatment to address their health issues.

Just as we saw a significant increase in SUD and overdoses under pandemic conditions, currently there is a looming policy decision that may cause another spike. On May 11, the Biden administration intends to officially end the COVID-19 public health emergency. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to simultaneously reinstate federal requirements, waived during the pandemic, intended to curb overprescribing of controlled medications — that patients see a doctor in person before receiving prescriptions for Schedule III drugs.

The rollback is expected to negatively impact those with prescriptions for opioid recovery medications and, in turn, the positive gains attributed to widespread access to telehealth for SUD treatment. More than 35,000 submissions had something to say about the rollback during the allotted one-month public comment period.

Substance use disorder treatment podcast – Audiogram

In a 2022 episode of the Opioid Action Center podcast, Host Andy Smith talked to then CEO of the Gateway Foundation (currently CEO of American Addiction Centers) Tom Britton, PhD, about the evolution of treatment for addiction. As a public and behavioral health doctor of 30 years, (25 years in addiction-specific treatment) and someone who’s in long-term recovery himself, he is a fierce advocate for data-driven addiction treatment.

Following an overview of the rise in SUD related to the pandemic, he outlined the technological solutions that allow for an even wider variety of treatment options for those in need. Most importantly, the rapid advancement of virtual health care and digital assistance for those in recovery offers new hope.

He explained that he wanted to know for sure that Gateway’s treatment services were effective for long-term recovery. By adapting their technology, measuring patient outcomes became possible — even after patients leave treatment. By establishing a direct line of communication with current and former patients and collecting their valuable feedback, they were able to expand addiction services offered and gauge the services’ effectiveness for long-term recovery.

Once virtual care became the norm, Britton continued to spearhead the adoption of leading technology, creation of a virtual suite of services to complement video-based counseling, and training of staff and patients to maximize the effectiveness of no-contact virtual treatment.

To check out the full discussion, visit the episode page at the Opioid Action Center.

The CHIME Opioid Task Force (Linkedin, Twitter) was assembled in 2018 with a sole mission: to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic using the knowledge and expertise of the nation’s health care IT leaders. For more updates on the current state of the opioid crisis visit opioidactioncenter.com and listen to the Opioid Action Center podcast for the latest insights from HIT industry leaders.


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