Behavioral Telehealth Loses Momentum Without a Regulatory Boost

by | Jan 10, 2023 | Health

Controlled substances became a little less controlled during the pandemic. That benefited both patients (for their health) and telehealth startups (to make money).

Some potentially addictive medications — like buprenorphine and Adderall — are now far more available online to patients because of regulatory changes. Given the scarcity of qualified doctors to treat some of the behavioral health conditions associated with these drugs, like opioid use disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, doctors’ new ability to prescribe online or, in some cases, by telephone is a huge change. But easier access to the drugs has both upsides and downsides, since they’re often dispensed without accompanying therapy that improves the odds of a patient’s success.

Pre-pandemic, patients sometimes traveled several hours for addiction care, said Emily Behar, director of clinical operations for Ophelia, a New York startup serving people with opioid addictions. Or patients might be struggling with multiple jobs or a lack of child care. Such obstacles made sustaining care fraught.

“How do you reach those people?” she asked.

It’s a question preoccupying much of the behavioral health sector, complicated by the reality that most patients with opioid use disorder aren’t in treatment, said Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, chief medical officer of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Increased access to telehealth has started to …

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