Telehealth for opioid use disorder: retention as a function of demographics and rurality
Background: Despite lifesaving medications such as buprenorphine and methadone, the majority of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) face access barriers to evidence-based treatment. COVID-19 era regulatory reforms have shown that telehealth can improve access to care, although disparities in clinical outcomes are likely to persist.
Objective: We aimed to analyze 180-day and 365-day retention in treatment with buprenorphine for OUD overall and by demographics, hypothesizing that retention would be lower among racial/ethnic minorities and rural patients.
Methods: We analyzed data from a cohort of individuals with OUD enrolled in treatment from April 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, in Pennsylvania and New York using a virtual-first telehealth OUD treatment platform to assess rates of 180-day and 365-day retention. Associations between demographic characteristics and retention were assessed using unadjusted and adjusted logistic regression models.
Results: Among 1,378 patients (58.8% male), 180-day retention was 56.4%, and 365-day retention was 48.3%. Adjusted analyses found that only an association between older age and greater odds of 180-day retention was significant (aOR for patients aged 30–50 vs. <30: 1.83 [1.37–2.45]). There were no significant associations between sex, race/ethnicity, state, or rurality with retention.
Conclusion: While we were unable to control for socioeconomic variables, we found retention within telehealth services for buprenorphine was high irrespective of geography or race/ethnicity, but disparities with age indicate a subset of patients who may benefit from more intensive services early in care.
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