Telemedicine Buprenorphine Initiation and Retention in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment for Medicaid Enrollees

Lindsey R. Hammerslag, Aimee Mack, Redonna K. Chandler, Laura C. Fanucchi, Daniel J. Feaster, Marc R. Larochelle, Michelle R. Lofwall, Michael Nau, Jennifer Villani, Sharon L. Walsh, Philip M. Westgate, Svetla Slavova, Jeffery C. Talbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Importance: Early COVID-19 mitigation strategies placed an additional burden on individuals seeking care for opioid use disorder (OUD). Telemedicine provided a way to initiate and maintain transmucosal buprenorphine treatment of OUD. Objective: To examine associations between transmucosal buprenorphine OUD treatment modality (telemedicine vs traditional) during the COVID-19 public health emergency and the health outcomes of treatment retention and opioid-related nonfatal overdose. Design, Setting, and Participants: This retrospective cohort study was conducted using Medicaid claims and enrollment data from November 1, 2019, to December 31, 2020, for individuals aged 18 to 64 years from Kentucky and Ohio. Data were collected and analyzed in June 2022, with data updated during revision in August 2023. Exposures: The primary exposure of interest was the modality of the transmucosal buprenorphine OUD treatment initiation. Relevant patient demographic and comorbidity characteristics were included in regression models. Main Outcomes and Measures: There were 2 main outcomes of interest: retention in treatment after initiation and opioid-related nonfatal overdose after initiation. For outcomes measured after initiation, a 90-day follow-up period was used. The main analysis used a new-user study design; transmucosal buprenorphine OUD treatment initiation was defined as initiation after more than a 60-day gap in buprenorphine treatment. In addition, uptake of telemedicine for buprenorphine was examined, overall and within patients initiating treatment, across quarters in 2020. Results: This study included 41266 individuals in Kentucky (21269 women [51.5%]; mean [SD] age, 37.9 [9.0] years) and 50648 individuals in Ohio (26425 women [52.2%]; mean [SD] age, 37.1 [9.3] years) who received buprenorphine in 2020, with 18250 and 24741 people initiating buprenorphine in Kentucky and Ohio, respectively. Telemedicine buprenorphine initiations increased sharply at the beginning of 2020. Compared with nontelemedicine initiation, telemedicine initiation was associated with better odds of 90-day retention with buprenorphine in both states (Kentucky: adjusted odds ratio, 1.13 [95% CI, 1.01-1.27]; Ohio: adjusted odds ratio, 1.19 [95% CI, 1.06-1.32]) in a regression analysis adjusting for patient demographic and comorbidity characteristics. Telemedicine initiation was not associated with opioid-related nonfatal overdose (Kentucky: adjusted odds ratio, 0.89 [95% CI, 0.56-1.40]; Ohio: adjusted odds ratio, 1.08 [95% CI, 0.83-1.41]). Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study of Medicaid enrollees receiving buprenorphine for OUD, telemedicine buprenorphine initiation was associated with retention in treatment early during the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings add to the literature demonstrating positive outcomes associated with the use of telemedicine for treatment of OUD.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2336914
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 18 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Telemedicine Buprenorphine Initiation and Retention in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment for Medicaid Enrollees'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this