Treating Addiction With Telemedicine


It is important that we keep the conversation going regarding Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness. As you might remember from a couple weeks ago, the President called upon Congress for $1.1 billion to fully fund efforts meant to curb the crisis taking 78 American lives every day by way of opioid overdoses. Several new initiatives were presented by various government agencies, such as:

  • Expanding substance use disorder treatment in the TRICARE system to include coverage of intensive outpatient programs and a variety of treatment approaches for opioid use disorders.
  • Supporting distance learning and telemedicine programs that expand access to healthcare, substance use disorder treatment, and educational opportunities in rural communities.

If you have kept yourself apprised of the nature of the American opioid epidemic, then you are likely to be aware of the fact that many of the communities hardest hit by the scourge of prescription opioid and heroin abuse have been in the most rural parts of the country. Years of over prescribing, along with a lack of access to addiction treatment services has created a problem in rural America that has proved difficult to tackle. It has been a real challenge to open up addiction treatment facilities in areas like the Appalachian region, and it is very difficult for people with an opioid use disorder and little means to travel to areas where they can get the help they need. Perhaps, technology can offer a solution?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has directed $1.4 million to five pilot projects that will harness the power to use video chat with the hope of connecting patients with doctors who are trained in treating addiction, The Washington Post reports. The pilot projects are being conducted in:

  • Southwest Virginia
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky

“This is an obvious potential direction to move in,” said Colleen Barry, a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins University and co-director of its Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research. “There are some real opportunities and some pretty significant challenges.”

Some health professionals believe telemedicine could be the answer to the rural addiction treatment problem; however, there are others who have raised some valid concerns with the idea. They point out that addiction telemedicine challenges include prescribing and monitoring addiction medications, according to the article. Those two facets need to be done “face to face, by a physician who has been licensed [by the Drug Enforcement Administration. That’s a barrier,” said Richard Merkel, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Science at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

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