In a significant stride toward expanding access to addiction treatment services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published, on January 31, its Final Rule allowing telehealth access to buprenorphine and methadone through Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). This new authority marks a pivotal moment in addressing access to effective treatment options.
SAMHSA's decision to enable telehealth access represents a progressive response to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic not only heightened the demand for addiction treatment services but also underscored the necessity of flexible and innovative approaches to healthcare delivery.
Historically, the conventional in-person OTP model of care posed logistical barriers for many patients, particularly those residing in rural or underserved areas. By embracing telehealth modalities, SAMHSA has removed geographical constraints and enhanced the accessibility of life-saving medications for individuals in need.
The inclusion of buprenorphine and methadone in telehealth services signifies a departure from conventional norms within the addiction treatment landscape. Traditionally, strict regulations surrounding the dispensing of these medications required in-person visits, posing challenges for patients with limited mobility or transportation options. By leveraging telehealth technologies, individuals can now receive critical medications without the impediments of needing to be in physical proximity.
It is important to note that the overall future of remote prescribing of controlled substances outside of the OTP setting is still up in the air. It remains to be seen how the Drug Enforcement Administration will approach that issue.
SAMHSA notes in the Final Rule that the use of telehealth was proved successful during the pandemic, and, more importantly, the use of the telehealth waiver did not result in an increase in overdose deaths. In that respect, SAMHSA decided to allow OTPs to induct new patients into buprenorphine treatment via telehealth without having to see them in person and induct new patients into methadone treatment pursuant to an audiovisual telehealth visit. Patients must still obtain doses of methadone in person at the OTP clinic, and the Final Rule does not allow methadone treatment to be initiated via audio-only telehealth because of the risk factors of the medication. SAMHSA also provides in the Final Rule that telehealth can assist with the psychosocial assessment required within 14 days of induction into treatment. The Final Rule also addresses more flexibility for take-home doses and the removal of the one-year eligibility requirement and allows split dosing and harm reduction activities.
You can access a copy of the Final Rule here.
If you have further questions about the Buprenorphine and Methadone Telehealth Access for OTPs Final Rule or need assistance interpreting federal or state healthcare regulations, please feel free to contact the authors of this alert or your Venable relationship attorney.