New Approaches Tackle the Opioid Crisis by Integrating In-Person Care and Digital Tools


by Robby Franceschini

May 20, 2019 — The opioid crisis continues to wreak havoc on America’s communities. Over two-thirds of overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid, and over half of those deaths were caused by synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, an opioid originally developed to treat severe pain that is now often produced illicitly. While in 2017 California had fewer overdose deaths from prescription opioids compared to the national average, the state did experience a two-fold increase in opioid deaths from synthetic opioids and heroin.

To battle this on-going crisis, several companies offer solutions and tools that connect patients with the treatment they need and enable providers and health systems to identify and treat opioid abuse problems as they arise. These offerings include digital health tools, telehealth platforms, computer-aided decision systems and data analytics, bringing leading-edge technologies to providers and patients to bring the opioid epidemic to its knees.


Digital therapeutics and other novel approaches to addressing SUD patient needs

Digital therapeutics, a growing element in the pharmaceuticals market, have emerged in the substance use treatment space to complement interventions such as medication assisted treatment. Reset-O, developed by Pear Therapeutics and Sandoz, is the first FDA-cleared digital therapeutic that delivers virtual cognitive behavioral therapy to individuals with opioid use disorder. Digital therapeutics hold strong promise as successful complements to medical interventions, because FDA clearance requires robust evidence to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

Several startups are also vying to serve those with opioid use disorder by increasing access to medication-assisted treatment that includes access to buprenorphine. Bicycle Health is a California-based company working to virtually connect patients and members with providers licensed to prescribe buprenorphine. The company’s model addresses DEA restrictions for dispensing buprenorphine and other opioids by first requiring an in-person visit. Another novel solution called 180 Health Partners works within Medicaid to offer wraparound services to pregnant women with opioid use disorder. 180 Health Partners uniquely integrates an app to provide care management support with more traditional, in-person services, and has raised money from high-profile health care investors.


Digital resources for providers

Digital tools also exist for providers seeking guidance on prescriptions and treatment options for patients. Project ECHO, based out of the University of New Mexico, provides virtual grand rounds for providers, including a program on chronic pain and opioid management. Enterprise systems like NarxCare and SafeUseNow analyze PDMP data and other data sets to deliver patient risk scores to providers so they can make more informed prescription decisions. Other direct-to-provider apps, such as the CDC’s Opioid Guideline App, offer decision support and guidelines to help providers determine when opioid prescriptions are appropriate and calculate dosages.

With the increase in opioid abuse and deaths, a good deal of work remains on many fronts to combat the opioid epidemic and remedy its continuing toll on America’s communities. The digital tools and innovative solutions that integrate virtual care, medical interventions and in-person care for specific affected populations may be the key to the winning the battle.