Q&A: Telehealth’s function 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 almost 15% from the greater than 93,000 deaths in 2020. 

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

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

MobiHealthNews: Why do you assume that telemedicine works nicely for this inhabitants?

Dr. Brian Clear: It’s all about entry. So, we all know that solely one in 10 sufferers with a substance use dysfunction is definitely getting therapy previously 12 months. There are a variety of causes for that, largely surrounding geographic entry. Forty % of counties in america do not also have a supplier who’s registered to offer 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 dependancy specialty care, and it is identified that these applications supply dependancy 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 basically exceptional. Which means we’re interesting to individuals who in any other case do not entry every other stage of care. We’re lastly breaking that cycle of simply serving the identical small, tiny subpopulation of sufferers time and again.

Ankit Gupta: Yeah, and I will offer you an instance. There is a new regulation in Alabama that went dwell just lately, the place an in-person examination is required throughout the final 12 months to prescribe a managed substance. We, for the final virtually two months, had a complete job drive working tirelessly to assist our a whole bunch of sufferers discover native suppliers in Alabama. 

In any case of that effort, we nonetheless discovered that lower than 20% of sufferers truly discovered a neighborhood supplier. It is as a result of the suppliers weren’t obtainable. They weren’t inexpensive. There was a variety of stigma like Brian talked about. We have had reviews the place sufferers do not wish to be seen strolling into clinics; they do not wish to have their automobile parked exterior. 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 now have. We’re not enrolling any new sufferers, however to proceed caring for the sufferers we now have, till we discover a appropriate choice for them on the bottom. And so, there’s only a large, large lack of entry. 

MHN: There was an enhance 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 virtually universally within the illicit drug provide. So, sufferers who’re utilizing illicit opioids are more likely to overdose than they ever had been previously. 

COVID stored individuals of their houses for a really very long time and made individuals much more reluctant to entry the sources that had been already very restricted. Now, I believe we’re beginning to get previous that, and individuals are returning to extra regular lives. So, I am unable to say that COVID restrictions are preserving individuals out of care anymore. 

However we’re now in a spot the place it isn’t 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, certainly one of which was about their outlook on restoration and dependancy therapy throughout COVID. 

And what we realized was fairly completely different from the narrative on the market. We realized that 77% of our sufferers stated that the pandemic has not made sustaining or reaching restoration harder. In reality, 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 Sequence B. How do you propose to make use of that funding?

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

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

We have additionally been fairly profitable at partnering with well being plans. We’re seeing sturdy 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 in addition with employers to succeed in sufferers.

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