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Addressing America’s Opioid Crisis: Can Telemedicine Help?

August 2, 2016 Kerry Best Healthcare 1549

Addressing America’s Opioid Crisis: Can Telemedicine Help?

With the rate of opioid overdoses increasing 200% from 2000 to 2014, the opioid epidemic in America is one of the most serious issues plaguing the country in recent years. According to federal officials, an astounding 78 people die on average in America each day from opioid overdoses. Some believe rural America has been hit the hardest for a number of reasons. Rural areas such as the Appalachian region of the United States suffer from high rates of unemployment and poverty. Rural areas also tend to rely disproportionately on economies consisting mostly of jobs involving manual labor, such as agriculture and coal-mining – all physically intense jobs that cause chronic pain. These factors combined with the more liberal opioid prescribing practices that began in the 1990s have created the perfect storm for opioid abuse in Appalachia and other rural areas.

Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) believe that telemedicine may be an answer in curing this epidemic, providing patients with access to the treatment they need, saving lives, and millions of dollars. In previous posts, we have talked about the many benefits telemental healthcare brings to those who do not have access to the care they need. With mental disorders often co-occurring with drug addiction, the benefits for both go hand-in-hand.

According to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, “addiction treatment is often out of reach for many in rural America,” and “expanding access to telemedicine is an important step towards making sure rural communities have the tools they need to fight the opioid epidemic,” Vilsack said. “USDA is committed to provide the critical resources rural areas need to reduce the staggering increase in opioid overdose deaths that is driving up health care costs and devastating communities.”

In June, Vilsack announced five Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant awards to help provide treatment for the growing opioid epidemic in rural central Appalachia. The DLT award includes nearly $1.4 million for five projects in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia to help these areas address the epidemic.

Included in the award is a $377,121 grant going to The Baptist Health Foundation Corbin, Inc. that will help connect clinical specialists to ten school-based health centers and two primary care sites. This project will provide mental, behavioral and psychiatric care services in high poverty Strike Force areas and Kentucky’s southeastern Promise Zone. The Strike Force and Promise Zone initiatives are part of the Obama Administration and USDA’s efforts to invest in areas of persistent economic hardship.

In Tennessee, USDA awarded a grant of $67,572 to the Carey Counseling Center to expand and improve six rural counseling centers with mental, behavioral and psychiatric care services and substance treatment services.

The results? Continue following us in this series of blog posts as we discover how providers are using telemedicine to increase access to care for those most in need of drug addiction treatment.