Telehealth is a game-changer for opioid addiction

Lets keep it that way

There’s a limited time to make your voice heard to the DEA. Commenting closes on March 31, 2023 — Act Now.

What can you say to get the DEA’s attention?

Just tell your story. The words you use aren’t important. Just let the DEA know how telemedicine at Ophelia has personally helped you.

You don’t use buprenorphine to get high. There’s absolutely no evidence that access to Suboxone via telehealth increases overdose deaths; you can cite the research here. So why is the DEA claiming that their proposed rule is going to prevent the misuse of buprenorphine, when that’s been a total non-issue?

You have a provider you trust.
If your Ophelia care team has been trustworthy and supportive, how does it make you feel to (potentially) have to see an in-person provider in order to keep accessing telehealth services?

You’re aware of the research: Telehealth saves lives. You can cite the study findings here that say that when telehealth services for opioid addiction expanded during the pandemic, the result was “individuals staying in treatment longer and reducing their risk of medically treated overdose.” Any rules that threaten this are unacceptable.

Your experience with in-person providers wasn't great. Just because you’re seeing a doctor face-to-face doesn’t make them an “expert” in addiction medicine. In fact, telemedicine makes it possible for you to see a real expert no matter where you live.

Seeing an in-person doctor is harder than some people realize. We know that telemedicine removes barriers like commuting costs, childcare issues, time off from work, and other burdens that prevent people from accessing care. If any of these factors matter to you, share why!

Rigidity doesn’t help — flexibility does.  Imagine having an in-person visit scheduled, and then something unavoidable comes up that makes it impossible for you to attend. (Because life happens!) If you don’t get to your visit, you cannot get your medication.

We are planning for all scenarios and if this does pass, please know that all patients will have up to 6 months to attend the in-person visit and Ophelia will work to help find a provider.

Not sure what's at stake? Read our latest blog post.

Your voice matters.

Why is the DEA proposing a change “out of the blue”?

During Covid, something called the COVID Public Health Emergency (PHE) went into effect, and it made it possible for people with opioid addiction to get their Suboxone® prescription via an online visit — no in-person visit required. But the PHE is set to expire on May 11, so the DEA is proposing new rules.

What, exactly, is the DEA proposing?

They want telemedicine patients to be required to have one in-person visit with a clinician in order to continue accessing online prescriptions for Suboxone (as well as other controlled substances).

Should you worry that telehealth will go away?

No. Before telemedicine for opioid addiction, getting effective treatment depended on where you lived. There are still far too many counties with no providers who are licensed to prescribe Suboxone, not to mention other barriers (commute, wait times, stigma, privacy, childcare) that make in-person treatment an outdated model. Telemedicine addresses all these obstacles and, frankly, keeps more people alive. Bottom line: Even if new rules present some challenges that we’ll have to navigate, Ophelia is here to stay.

What is Ophelia doing to fight against this proposal?

Everything and anything we can! We’re hopeful that this proposal won’t actually go into effect, but that doesn’t mean we’re sitting idly on the sidelines. We are advocating with the DEA, HHS (Health and Human Services), the White House, and Congress to make the voice of telehealth heard on this issue. We are communicating directly with lobbying groups and government officials, and planning around every potential scenario to ensure your care is not interrupted.

Is Ophelia fighting this battle alone?

That’s a good question, and the answer is no. We are in this with virtually every other telemedicine company that provides addiction care. That’s great news, because there is power in the collective voice.

Why does the DEA want to make it harder for patients who already struggle enough?

They are claiming that requiring an in-person visit is for the patient’s best interest and safety. But we already know that when care becomes harder to access, it has the opposite effect. There is no logic behind the idea that making patients go to an arbitrary in-person visit keeps them safer.

If the proposal passes, will my care be suddenly interrupted?

Absolutely not. Even if the proposal passes, you can still access your care and prescriptions online. For current patients or those who start Ophelia treatment before May 11, one in-person visit with a clinician would need to happen sometime before November 2023. That gives you several months to find a local clinician, and you won’t have to do it alone. We’ll be right by your side and help you every step of the way.

What if I’m not an Ophelia patient yet but thinking about becoming one?

Don’t let this proposal stop you; we’re still here and the care we offer hasn’t changed. Even if you become a telemedicine patient after May 11, you can still begin treatment and receive your first prescription for Suboxone via an online appointment. The only difference is that you’ll have to fulfill the in-person appointment requirement within 30 days if the proposal passes.

Wait, will I need an in-person appointment every 30 days going forward?

No. If the proposal passes, you’ll only need one appointment, in total.

Am I allowed to be angry over this proposal?

Absolutely. We are too. The science is unequivocal: The only effective treatment for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Medication like Suboxone makes patients far more successful in treatment and less likely to overdose. Regulatory changes during the pandemic were a game-changer for those who needed treatment but couldn’t easily access it. Any rules that introduce arbitrary and unnecessary hoops to jump through are infuriating — and they could cost people their lives.

How do we turn our anger into action?

Use your voice! Tell the DEA how telemedicine for opioid addiction is changing your life. Ask your friends and family to do the same and shout from the rooftops that telehealth is a literal life-saver. You have until the end of March to submit your comments, so set yourself a reminder (or take five minutes and do it now).

There are two ways to submit your comments. You can do it online here. You can post anonymously or with your name if you want to. The DEA is required to read EVERY comment. You can also send your comments by mail to:

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Attn: DEA Federal Register Representative/DPW

8701 Morrissette Drive, Springfield, VA 22152.

(Be sure to refer to document number DEA-2023-0028-0001.)