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Subst Abus ; 43(1): 1370-1373, 2022.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-2062571


Many patients with opioid use disorders do not receive evidence-based treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic expanded the use of telehealth for prescribing medications for opioid use disorder (OUD). The uptake of telehealth has been variable, and this uneven expansion has created natural experiments to test assumptions and answer key questions about what improves outcomes for patients with OUD. Many current quality of care measures are not patient centered and do not focus on the practical questions that clinicians face. What criteria should be met before prescribing buprenorphine? Are physical exams necessary? Does the frequency and type of drug testing predict clinical outcomes? Are short check-in visits by phone or video better than less frequent in-person visits? Answering these questions can help define the essential components of high-quality care for patients with OUD. Defining the features of high-quality care can help create guardrails that will help protect our patients from potentially exploitive and ineffective care. Telehealth will likely end up being one additional tool to deliver care, but the scientific questions that can be answered during this period of rapid change can help answer some of the fundamental questions about providing high-quality care-and that will help all our patients, no matter how care is delivered.

Buprenorphine , COVID-19 , Opioid-Related Disorders , Telemedicine , Buprenorphine/therapeutic use , Humans , Opiate Substitution Treatment , Opioid-Related Disorders/drug therapy , Pandemics
JAMA Netw Open ; 5(10): e2236298, 2022 10 03.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-2059209


Importance: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic prompted policy changes to allow increased telehealth delivery of buprenorphine, a potentially lifesaving medication for opioid use disorder (OUD). It is unclear how characteristics of patients who access different treatment modalities (in-person vs telehealth, video vs telephone) vary, and whether modality is associated with retention-a key indicator of care quality. Objectives: To compare patient characteristics across receipt of different treatment modalities and to assess whether modality was associated with retention during the year following COVID-19-related policy changes. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study was conducted in the national Veterans Health Administration. Participants included patients who received buprenorphine for OUD during March 23, 2020, to March 22, 2021. Analyses examining retention were stratified by buprenorphine initiation time (year following COVID-19-related changes; prior to COVID-19-related changes). Exposures: Patient characteristics; treatment modality (at least 1 video visit, at least 1 telephone visit but no video, only in-person). Main Outcomes and Measures: Treatment modality; 90-day retention. Results: Among 17 182 patients, 7094 (41.3%) were aged 30 to 44 years and 6251 (36.4%) were aged 45 to 64 years; 15 835 (92.2%) were male, 14 085 (82.0%) were White, and 16 292 (94.8%) were non-Hispanic; 6547 (38.1%) had at least 1 video visit, 8524 (49.6%) had at least 1 telephone visit but no video visit, and 2111 (12.3%) had only in-person visits. Patients who were younger, male, Black, unknown race, Hispanic, non-service connected, or had specific mental health/substance use comorbidities were less likely to receive any telehealth. Among patients who received telehealth, those who were older, male, Black, non-service connected, or experiencing homelessness and/or housing instability were less likely to have video visits. Retention was significantly higher for patients with telehealth compared with only in-person visits regardless of initiation time (for initiated in year following COVID-19-related changes: adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.31; 95% CI, 1.12-1.53; for initiated prior to COVID-19-related changes: aOR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.08-1.39). Among patients with telehealth, higher retention was observed in those with video visits compared with only telephone for patients who initiated in the year following COVID-19 (aOR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.26-1.71). Conclusions and Relevance: In this cross-sectional study, many patients accessed buprenorphine via telephone and some were less likely to have any video visits. These findings suggest that discontinuing or reducing telephone access may disrupt treatment for many patients, particularly groups with access disparities such as Black patients and those experiencing homelessness. Telehealth was associated with increased retention for both new and continuing patients.

Buprenorphine , COVID-19 , Opioid-Related Disorders , Buprenorphine/therapeutic use , COVID-19/drug therapy , Cross-Sectional Studies , Female , Humans , Male , Opiate Substitution Treatment , Opioid-Related Disorders/drug therapy , Opioid-Related Disorders/epidemiology , Pandemics , Telephone
Am J Psychiatry ; 179(10): 740-747, 2022 10.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1962560


OBJECTIVE: The authors examined the impact of COVID-19-related policies reducing barriers to telehealth delivery of buprenorphine treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) on buprenorphine treatment across different modalities (telephone, video, and in-person visits). METHODS: This was a national retrospective cohort study with interrupted time-series analyses to examine the impact of policy changes in March 2020 on buprenorphine treatment for OUD in the Veterans Health Administration, during the year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2019 to February 2020) and during the first year of the pandemic (March 2020 to February 2021). The authors also examined trends in the use of telephone, video, and in-person visits for buprenorphine treatment and compared patient demographic characteristics and retention in buprenorphine treatment across the two periods. RESULTS: The number of patients receiving buprenorphine increased from 13,415 in March 2019 to 15,339 in February 2021. By February 2021, telephone visits were used by the most patients (50.2%; 4,456 visits), followed by video visits (32.4%; 2,870 visits) and in-person visits (17.4%; 1,544 visits). During the pre-pandemic period, the number of patients receiving buprenorphine increased significantly by 103 patients per month. After the COVID-19 policy changes, there was an immediate increase of 265 patients in the first month, and the number continued to increase significantly, at a rate of 47 patients per month. The demographic characteristics of patients receiving buprenorphine during the pandemic period were similar to those during the pre-pandemic period, but the proportion of patients reaching 90-day retention on buprenorphine treatment decreased significantly from 49.6% to 47.7%, while days on buprenorphine increased significantly from 203.8 to 208.7. CONCLUSIONS: The number of patients receiving buprenorphine continued to increase after the COVID-19 policy changes, but the delivery of care shifted to telehealth visits, suggesting that any reversal of COVID-19 policies must be carefully considered.

Buprenorphine , COVID-19 , Opioid-Related Disorders , Telemedicine , Buprenorphine/therapeutic use , Humans , Opiate Substitution Treatment , Opioid-Related Disorders/drug therapy , Pandemics , Policy , Retrospective Studies