Telemedicine increases access to buprenorphine initiation during the COVID-19 pandemic

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 May;124:108272. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108272. Epub 2021 Jan 15.


Federal regulatory changes during the COVID-19 pandemic allow buprenorphine to be prescribed without an initial in-person evaluation. Prior to COVID-19, numerous barriers limited broad uptake of buprenorphine among people who use drugs at the system, provider, and patient levels, including lack of available DATA 2000 waivered clinicians to prescribe, stigma, and competing livelihood priorities. As two harm reduction primary care programs in New York State that care for people who use drugs and offer buprenorphine, one rural (Ithaca) and one urban (Manhattan), we have rapidly adopted telemedicine to initiate buprenorphine treatment. Our collective experience suggests that telemedicine for buprenorphine initiation is eliminating many traditional barriers to treatment, in particular for individuals leaving incarceration, and people who use drugs and access syringe service programs. Future models of buprenorphine treatment should incorporate telemedicine for buprenorphine initiation, which can be done in collaboration with community-based outreach and peer networks to engage people who use drugs. This regulatory change must be sustained beyond COVID-19, and is vital to increasing access to buprenorphine, closing the opioid use disorder treatment gap, and achieving greater health equity for people who use drugs.

Keywords: Buprenorphine; COVID-19; Telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • COVID-19*
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • New York
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / rehabilitation
  • Primary Health Care
  • Rural Population
  • Telemedicine / trends*
  • Urban Population


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine