Virtual care has helped many people with OUD get the medications they need to avoid overdoses, severe withdrawal.
Opioid abuse has become a huge problem since these drugs first started being frequently prescribed in the ‘90s. Now the problem has gotten so bad, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that more than 2 million Americans are suffering from opioid addiction, and about 90 people each day die from an overdose.
Most often, opioids are prescribed to treat some sort of pain. The problem is that they are very addictive, and it’s incredibly easy to become addicted once they’ve been prescribed. Most people don’t start using what their doctor has given them believing they will become hooked, but it happens frequently, and this remains a growing problem in the United States. Moreover, when addicted individuals are no longer prescribed opioids from a physician, they tend to turn to heroin on the streets. This is, of course, incredibly dangerous, particularly since heroin is being laced with the deadly synthetic fentanyl more so now than ever before.
Fortunately, there are now opioid antagonists such as naloxone (brand name Narcan) that can help reverse the effects of an overdose. Medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, and suboxone, can also help curb the withdrawal effects associated with opioid use. Many people don’t want to stop using because of how painful withdrawal can be. The term “dope sick” refers to the body’s intense reaction to the drug leaving the body.
Access to prescriptions is especially important for opioid users and can help save lives. During COVID, there was a change in the federal rules that let doctors give out these drugs virtually. Currently, this modification is still in effect. Virtual prescribing has made it easier than ever before to get the medications needed to end addiction.
However, some fear that making these meds more readily available will mean they’ll be diverted for illicit use or that those in recovery will continue to receive withdrawal drugs long after they need them because these, too, can be addicting. There is concern that more people could end up dying as a result of these lax laws.
These sentiments could not be further from the truth, new research shows, which found that there was no increase in buprenorphine overdoses due to virtual prescribing, and of those who died from opioid overdoses, only 3.2 of them were already receiving treatment. These results prove that the more access people have to the medications they need, and the treatment required for opioid addiction, the better chance they have of surviving an overdose. Simply put, people are not misusing these drugs that help with overdose withdrawal, and the easier access means many have a better chance of eventually overcoming their opioid addiction.
COVID is still very much a problem in the United States, and really, all around the world. Yes, COVID cases have decreased since they first came about in 2020, but it still is something that is causing people to get really sick – or worse – and new strains of the virus are coming out all the time. If people can try to avoid infection by accessing their medications virtually, this seems like the best bet for staying safe and ensuring uninterrupted care.
It remains to be seen if the federal rule allowing patients to get prescriptions virtually will remain in place indefinitely. To date, it has proven to be a lifesaver for many, and there are advocacy groups ready to go to battle if this access is taken away.