Researchers study long-term implications of changing telehealth regulations for substance use treatment

Researchers study long-term implications of changing telehealth regulations for substance use treatment

Researchers at Northern Arizona University are studying what implications will come out of changes to telehealth regulations for substance use treatment that arose because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For years, America has struggled with an opioid and substance use disorder epidemic. Treatment providers have turned to medication-assisted treatment using carefully regulated medication to help patients overcome their addictions. This usually requires patients to visit clinics in-person to receive their medication.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) relaxed restrictions for medication-assisted treatment, allowing doctors to use telemedicine for prescribing for people in substance use disorder treatment.

Now, researchers Emery Eaves, Robert Trotter II, Eck Doerry, and Julie Baldwin at NAU are looking into whether or not such approaches are successful, which could lead to a permanent shift in DEA policy and simplified access to MAT treatment. The one-year, $293,000 project, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, will use rapid assessment, response, and evaluation methods to look into the changes.

“Since the RARE methodology has proven to be highly successful for addressing emerging health equities issues in hard-to-reach populations, implementing the RARE process during the COVID-19 pandemic provides us with a strong, scientifically proven process for rapidly answering crucial questions about the impact of COVID-19 on current drug abuse intervention programs,” Trotter said.

The group said they hope the project will provide northern Arizona communities with more information about telehealth and mHealth (mobile health) interventions for substance use disorder treatment.

“We hope our work will assist the national discussion of future guidelines MAT,” Eaves said. “Our project is important because it will enable us to study how the guideline changes have actually been experienced by people in treatment and by treatment providers.”