Low-barrier buprenorphine during the COVID-19 pandemic: A rapid transition to on-demand telemedicine with wide-ranging effects

Bradley M. Buchheit, Haven Wheelock, Abby Lee, Kimberly Brandt, Jessica Gregg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Low barrier addiction clinics increase access to medications to treat substance use disorders, while emphasizing harm reduction. The Harm Reduction and BRidges to Care (HRBR) Clinic is an on demand, low barrier addiction clinic that opened in October 2019. In the first three months of operation (November through January 2020), HRBR saw steadily increasing numbers of patients. Oregon saw its first case of novel coronavirus in February, and declared a state of emergency and enacted a formal “Stay at Home” order in March. That same month, the DEA announced that patients could be initiated on buprenorphine through telemedicine visits without an in-person exam. Within a week of being granted the ability to see patients virtually, HRBR had transitioned to over 90% virtual visits, while still allowing patients without technology to access in-person care. Within four weeks, the clinic expanded hours significantly, established workflows with community harm reduction partners, and was caring for patients in rural areas of the state. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the HRBR clinic was able to quickly transition from in-person to almost completely virtual visits within a week. This rapid pivot to telemedicine significantly increased access to care for individuals seeking low-threshold treatment in multiple contexts. Overarching institutional support, grant funding and a small flexible team were critical. HRBR's increased access and capacity were only possible with the Drug Enforcement Agency loosening restrictions around the use of telehealth for new patients. Keeping these altered regulations in place will be key to improving health and health care equity for people who use drugs, even after the pandemic subsides. Further research is needed in to whether addiction telemedicine impacts medication diversion rates, continued substance use, or provider practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108444
JournalJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Volume131
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Buprenorphine
  • COVID-19
  • Increased access to treatment
  • Low-threshold
  • Substance use disorders
  • Telemedicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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