Are We Missing an Opportunity to Address the Opioid Crisis via Telehealth?

A recent study published in Health Affairs found that telehealth use in the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs) is far outpaced by telehealth addressing other mental health concerns. Although telehealth treatment for both SUDs and mental health disorders has grown rapidly from 2010 and 2017, the use rates of telehealth to treat SUDs remain relatively low, when compared to mental health.

The potential missed opportunity to leverage telehealth in treating SUDs is particularly problematic given the severity of the opioid crisis – opioids were involved in almost 70% of the 70,237 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2017 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Less than 20% of people who need treatment for SUDs end up receiving the treatment that they need and the lack of addiction treatment providers in rural areas is a major reason for this alarmingly low number. Telehealth could help address this barrier to access!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Drug Overdose Deaths. Available at

Huskamp, H. A., Busch, A. B., Souza, J., Uscher-Pines, L., Rose, S., Wilcock, A., Landon, B. E., & Mehrotra, A. (2018). How is telemedicine being used in opioid and other substance use disorder treatment? Health Affairs, 37(12), 1940-1947.

Helen Nichols, PhD, MSW