Thursday, October 01, 2020

Opioid overdoses rising during pandemic despite expanded telehealth

Opioid overdoses and related deaths are on the rise in most states, despite hopes that expanded telehealth implemented during the pandemic would make obtaining addiction treatment easier, Heather Kagan reports for ABC News. Kagan is an internal medicine resident physician at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

The problem is widespread. On Aug. 14, the American Medical Association reported that more than 40 states had reported an increase in opioid-related mortalities. There are several likely reasons expanded telehealth hasn't spurred a decline in such deaths, according to Caleb Banta-Green, a principal research scientist at the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

Telehealth isn't "the magic solution," Banta-Green told Kagan. It's "great" for people who already receive addiction treatment, he said, but most people with opioid addictions aren't receiving treatment. 

Also, Kagan notes, many people struggling with opioid use are homeless or have other mental-health disorders. Many people with mental-health disorders don't seek help, and many don't have access to a phone, wi-fi, or other devices that could help facilitate telehealth addiction treatment, according to Farzan Sasangohar, director of the Applied Cognitive Ergonomics Lab at Texas A&M University. The pandemic has exacerbated that lack of access, he told Kagan.

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