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 folks 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 increase 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 therapy like buprenorphine for opioid use dysfunction. 

A kind of corporations, Bicycle Well being gives digital care in addition to prescriptions for medicine. CEO and founder Ankit Gupta and Medical Director Dr. Brian Clear sat down with MobiHealthNews to debate the therapy panorama for sufferers battling opioid use dysfunction and the startup’s current $50 million Sequence B elevate

MobiHealthNews: Why do you assume that telemedicine works properly 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 prior to now yr. There are a whole lot of causes for that, largely surrounding geographic entry. Forty p.c of counties in the US 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 folks of their well being system or their neighbors know who they’re, sufferers are reluctant to indicate up at these packages, that are licensed licensed packages for dependancy specialty care, and it is identified that these packages 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 take care of opioid use dysfunction earlier than, which is actually outstanding. Which means we’re interesting to individuals who in any other case do not entry some other stage 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 will provide you with an instance. There is a new regulation in Alabama that went dwell lately, the place an in-person examination is required inside the final 12 months to prescribe a managed substance. We, for the final nearly two months, had a complete job pressure 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 a neighborhood supplier. It is as a result of the suppliers weren’t out there. They weren’t reasonably priced. There was a whole lot 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 automotive 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 are able to proceed taking good care of the sufferers now we have. We’re not enrolling any new sufferers, however to proceed taking good care of the sufferers now we have, till we discover a appropriate possibility for them on the bottom. And so, there’s only a huge, huge lack of entry. 

MHN: There was an improve 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 folks of their properties for a really very long time and made folks 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 maintaining folks 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, one in all which was about their outlook on restoration and dependancy therapy throughout COVID. 

And what we discovered was fairly completely 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 truth, 42% stated that it has made it simpler. So, once more, it goes to indicate how telehealth can actually enhance entry.

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

Gupta: To this point, now we 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 will use this funding to proceed rising entry to opioid use dysfunction therapy. 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 improve the standard of care via information 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 robust demand, each from industrial in addition to from Medicaid managed care plans, to each improve entry by lowering value of this affected person inhabitants. So, we’re investing in rising 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 improve 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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