The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is releasing materials to encourage physicians to take advantage of telemedicine tools, according to a recent HHS blog post.  The newly-available resources were developed to help clinicians better understand how they can use telemedicine as a tool to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) and expand treatment options.

“Working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), HHS developed materials to help clarify how clinicians can use telemedicine as a tool to expand buprenorphine-based MAT [medication assisted treatment]for opioid use disorder treatment under current DEA regulations,” said the blog post by Assistant Health Secretary Adm. Brett P. Giroir, MD. “The information, including a clinical practice example that is consistent with applicable DEA and HHS administered authorities, can help to increase access to buprenorphine by utilizing telemedicine to expand provider’s ability to prescribe MAT to patients, including remote patients under certain circumstances.”

Through MAT, healthcare providers can treat patients through a combination of behavioral health therapy and prescribed opioids (i.e., methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine), which require special approval for prescription and need to be managed carefully. Telehealth advocates point out that that such treatments can be managed virtually, enabling providers to reach more patients and those in remote and rural locations to access the care they need.

“Sadly, this information is not widely known among healthcare providers and other stakeholders, and many have been reluctant to utilize telemedicine for prescribing (medication-assisted treatments)," the blog post said. "That is why we are taking this opportunity during Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week to make sure everyone knows that effective treatment is available, including via telemedicine, to help combat the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Beyond telemedicine, health information technology can be leveraged in many ways to combat the nation’s opioid crisis.”

“HHS is committed to improving access to MAT for OUD and is working on a variety of strategies to improve access to this life-saving treatment through increased funding to states and communities, payment policy changes, and education, training and technical assistance,” Dr. Giroir wrote. “One such area is to help providers understand how telemedicine can be used, in certain circumstances, to expand access to buprenorphine-based MAT.”

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