Q&A: Telehealth’s position in combating the opioid epidemic

Within the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. drug overdose deaths have surged. The CDC estimates that greater than 107,000 individuals died in 2021, a rise of practically 15% from the greater than 93,000 deaths in 2020. 

However the pandemic additionally has introduced a sudden enhance in telehealth utilization. Laws surrounding telehealth prescriptions of managed substances had been loosened throughout the public well being emergency, permitting for suppliers and startups to supply medication-assisted remedy like buprenorphine for opioid use dysfunction. 

A type of firms, Bicycle Well being presents digital care in addition to prescriptions for remedy. CEO and founder Ankit Gupta and Medical Director Dr. Brian Clear sat down with MobiHealthNews to debate the remedy panorama for sufferers battling opioid use dysfunction and the startup’s latest $50 million Collection B increase. 

MobiHealthNews: Why do you suppose that telemedicine works properly for this inhabitants?

Dr. Brian Clear: It’s all about entry. So, we all know that just one in 10 sufferers with a substance use dysfunction is definitely getting remedy prior to now yr. There are loads of causes for that, principally surrounding geographic entry. Forty p.c of counties in the USA do not actually have a supplier who’s registered to give you buprenorphine for opioid use dysfunction. 

There’s additionally stigma. Particularly in cities the place individuals of their well being system or their neighbors know who they’re, sufferers are reluctant to point out up at these applications, that are licensed licensed applications for habit specialty care, and it is recognized that these applications provide habit specialty care.

In our program, we discover that 30% of sufferers reaching out to us have by no means been identified with opioid use dysfunction earlier than and have by no means accessed look after opioid use dysfunction earlier than, which is de facto exceptional. Which means we’re interesting to individuals who in any other case do not entry another degree of care. We’re lastly breaking that cycle of simply serving the identical small, tiny subpopulation of sufferers again and again.

Ankit Gupta: Yeah, and I am going to provide you with an instance. There is a new regulation in Alabama that went stay just lately, the place an in-person examination is required throughout the final 12 months to prescribe a managed substance. We, for the final nearly two months, had an entire job drive working tirelessly to assist our lots of of sufferers discover native suppliers in Alabama. 

In spite of everything of that effort, we nonetheless discovered that lower than 20% of sufferers truly discovered an area supplier. It is as a result of the suppliers weren’t out there. They weren’t inexpensive. There was loads of stigma like Brian talked about. We have had experiences the place sufferers do not wish to be seen strolling into clinics; they do not wish to have their automotive parked outdoors. So, we had been in dire straits. 

We needed to actually fly a few suppliers to Alabama and spend every week there simply to adjust to the regulation in order that we will proceed caring for the sufferers we’ve got. We’re not enrolling any new sufferers, however to proceed caring for the sufferers we’ve got, till we discover a appropriate possibility for them on the bottom. And so, there’s only a large, large lack of entry. 

MHN: There was a rise in overdose deaths over the previous few years. What have you ever heard from sufferers about their experiences accessing care?

Clear: It is at all times been dismal, and entry has not gotten worse over the previous two years. What has occurred is that fentanyl is now current nearly universally within the illicit drug provide. So, sufferers who’re utilizing illicit opioids are more likely to overdose than they ever had been prior to now. 

COVID stored individuals of their properties for a really very long time and made individuals much more reluctant to entry the assets that had been already very restricted. Now, I believe we’re beginning to get previous that, and persons are returning to extra regular lives. So, I can not say that COVID restrictions are protecting individuals out of care anymore. 

However we’re now in a spot the place it is not simply fentanyl; it is new analogues of fentanyl — which are much more potent — which are within the illicit drug provide. 

Gupta: We despatched a survey to sufferers about 4 or 5 months in the past. There have been about 1,000 sufferers, and we requested them many questions, one in all which was about their outlook on restoration and habit remedy throughout COVID. 

And what we discovered was fairly totally different from the narrative on the market. We discovered that 77% of our sufferers stated that the pandemic has not made sustaining or attaining restoration tougher. In actual fact, 42% stated that it has made it simpler. So, once more, it goes to point out how telehealth can actually enhance entry.

MHN: Bicycle Well being just lately raised a $50 million Collection B. How do you intend to make use of that funding?

Gupta: To date, we’ve got been fairly profitable at reaching sufferers; we have served over 17,000 sufferers up to now throughout 26 states. However we’re nonetheless getting began. 

We’ll use this funding to proceed growing entry to opioid use dysfunction remedy. That features hiring medical suppliers to have the ability to develop the capability to see sufferers, constructing our know-how that helps us each ship the care in addition to enhance the standard of care by information analytics and affected person engagement instruments that we have constructed in-house by our randomized at-home drug testing program.

We have additionally been fairly profitable at partnering with well being plans. We’re seeing robust demand, each from industrial in addition to from Medicaid managed care plans, to each enhance entry by reducing value of this affected person inhabitants. So, we’re investing in growing these partnerships. 

We have now began receiving inbound curiosity from suppliers who wish to work with us, both referring sufferers to us or co-managing sufferers. We wish to use the funding to additionally enhance our partnerships with medical suppliers, case managers, discharge planners, particularly within the correctional well being setting but additionally with employers to achieve sufferers.

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