The pandemic has worsened the opioid crisis. In the 12-month period ending in May 2020, the U.S. had 81,000 drug overdoses, with synthetic opioids being the main driver of overdose deaths. That’s the highest number on record, according to provisional data from the CDC. And the volume of overdoses in May was 42% higher than in the same month in 2019.
The crisis is forcing the healthcare system to find novels ways to treat people with opioid use disorder and those at risk for the condition, said Hari Prasad, co-founder and CEO of Yosicare, which has developed a customizable mobile patient intake and registration platform.
One central way to battle the opioid epidemic is addressing the current mental health crisis. “COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression in U.S. adults in all demographic groups — 27.8% of adults reported depression symptoms, in contrast with 8.5% before the pandemic,” Prasad said.
People with depression, like those with chronic pain, are more likely to abuse opioids. By conducting patient screening assessments, healthcare providers can identify patients at risk for opioid addiction. Using AI algorithms, medical systems can identify individuals with the highest risk of opioid use disorder. After that, “they’re able to intervene, and minimize the risk of an opioid overdose,” Prasad said.
Examples of such assessments include the CAGE questionnaire, which was initially developed to identify potential alcohol problems but can be adapted for opioid and substance abuse. Pain and medication questionnaires and opioid use disorder assessments are other examples of such tools.
Telehealth has served as a tool to address patients’ healthcare needs who are reluctant or unable to go to an in-person health facility. More than 75% of medical professionals said telehealth enabled them to provide quality care for COVID-19-related complaints, chronic disease management, hospital and emergency department follow-up, mental health problems and other issues, according to the November 2020 Telehealth Impact Physician Survey.
Another way to address the opioid epidemic is to streamline alternative therapies when possible to address problems like chronic pain. A back brace could help alleviate pain in a patient with a spinal problem, thus eliminating the need to prescribe opioids. The problem in the past is the process of ordering durable medical equipment in healthcare was “broken,” Prasad said. “It took hours to fill out forms for the providers to submit the order for a back brace,” he said.
COVID-19 has streamlined the process of ordering durable medical equipment. “Now, it’s possible to order durable medical equipment for a patient with a couple of clicks,” Prasad.