The opioid epidemic and telemedicine feature frequently in medical and health press, the first for its challenging, damaging, hard to fight nature and the second as a mode for patient monitoring, consults, and treatment. According to the CDC, 63,632 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, nearly two-thirds of which involved a prescription or illicit opioid. We’ve written about a text messaging app used to reduce opioid relapses and non-contact monitors that detect respiratory depression.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released newly-developed materials to explain how to employ telemedicine with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD). Specifically, the HHS — working in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) — suggests telemedicine as an appropriate treatment mode to use with buprenorpine-based MAT. Buprenorphine is an opioid alkaline derivative used in addiction treatment. Generally prescribed only within federally-regulated opioid treatment programs, the HHS wants to spread the knowledge that qualified practitioners can prescribe buprenorphine in conjunction with telemedicine. Rural areas are a particular target for HHS because of a widespread but mistaken understanding that residents fighting addiction would have to travel to distant centers to receive treatment. Telemedicine makes it possible for them to be eligible for treatment without the travel.

Extending access to care remains telemedicine’s headline benefit, followed by lower costs and more efficient use of healthcare professionals. The high incidence of opioid abuse in economically-challenged rural areas requires new tools to combat this epidemic. Telemedicine gives doctors a new way to treat patients struggling with addiction.