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HHS Makes a Pitch for Telemedicine in Substance Abuse Treatment

HHS officials are worried that healthcare providers are too reluctant to use telemedicine in Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) therapy for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). So they're putting out the word on available resources.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- The Health and Human Services Department wants to remind everyone that telemedicine can be an important tool in treating people with addiction and substance abuse issues.

In a blog timed to coincide with Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, Assistant Health Secretary Adm. Brett P. Giroir, MD, noted that healthcare providers can use connected care platforms to improve Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) therapy for people struggling with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

“HHS is committed to improving access to MAT for OUD and is working on a variety of strategies to improve access to this life saving treatment through increased funding to states and communities, payment policy changes, and education, training and technical assistance,” he wrote. “One such area is to help providers understand how telemedicine can be used, in certain circumstances, to expand access to buprenorphine-based MAT.”

Through MAT, healthcare providers can treat patients with OUD through a combination of behavioral health therapy and prescribed opioids like methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine, which require special approval for prescription and need to be managed carefully. Telehealth advocates point out that that such treatments can be managed virtually, enabling providers to reach more patients and those in remote and rural locations to access the care they need.

“Working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), HHS developed materials to help clarify how clinicians can use telemedicine as a tool to expand buprenorphine-based MAT for opioid use disorder treatment under current DEA regulations,” Giroir wrote. “The information, including a clinical practice example that is consistent with applicable DEA and HHS administered authorities, can help to increase access to buprenorphine by utilizing telemedicine to expand (a) provider’s ability to prescribe MAT to patients, including remote patients under certain circumstances.”

“This especially will support access to buprenorphine in rural areas where there may be a smaller number of providers with a DATA 2000 waiver - which allows qualified practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of OUD in settings other than a federally regulated opioid treatment program,” he added.

According to Giroir, healthcare providers and other stakeholders have been reluctant to embrace telehealth and telemedicine because of restrictive guidelines, and they don’t understand how these tools can be applied to MAT therapy.

Giroir’s blog comes one day after the Senate passed a massive bill designed to tackle the opioid abuse crisis.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) contains all or parts of more than 70 other bills, including several designed to expand telehealth and telemedicine resources. Senate negotiators will now meet with their counterparts in the House, which passed a similar bill earlier this year, to combine the two bills into one piece of legislation.

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