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One hundred thirty. That’s — on average — how many Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. 

The federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration may have ended on May 11, but the opioid epidemic raging before the pandemic has only worsened. More than 100,000 individuals died in 2021 from an overdose, making it the deadliest year of the opioid crisis to date. That’s a roughly 30% increase from 2020. 

Increased anxiety and depression, primarily due to the social isolation effectuated by the COVID-19 virus, soared during the pandemic, causing an upturn in the number of opioid addiction relapses. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. 

There are effective treatments available with proven outcomes. Despite this, many who suffer from opioid use disorder fail to get the treatment they need

Common Barriers to Treatment 

A lot of individuals suffering from opioid addiction or some other type of substance abuse disorder don’t seek treatment. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, part of that was due to decreased availability of in-person treatment and support services. Overall, though, only about 10% of people with a substance abuse disorder get treatment for it. 

Why? One of the biggest reasons is stigma. Many hesitate to seek care for their substance abuse issues because they’re afraid of what others in their professional and personal circles will think about them.  

Some aren’t able to afford the price of care, especially those underinsured or without insurance coverage altogether. Others face obstacles based on social determinants of health (SDOH). 

Even when someone addicted to opioids wants to seek treatment, they might face a big barrier: a shortage of mental health providers. More than half of counties in the U.S. have no practicing psychiatrists. Shortages of mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals are widespread, especially in rural areas. 

Unaddressed substance abuse and other mental health problems can have a negative influence on individuals through homelessness, poverty, employment, and safety. The result can be an unnecessary disability, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and poor quality of life. 

The opioid epidemic is especially costly for the U.S. healthcare system, costing an estimated $200 billion annually. Prescription opioid use itself costs the country a staggering $78.5 billion per year. 

A Digital Health Toolbox 

As part of a comprehensive care toolbox, the utilization of digital health tools — especially those that help achieve interoperability — has the potential to reach, diagnose, and treat individuals with opioid addiction. Used correctly, they can help healthcare providers, especially primary care physicians, identify risks of opioid use and engage patients accordingly. 

Most healthcare consumers already have access to a smartphone or other type of mobile device. By interacting with the appropriate healthcare providers through digital health tools, they can procure the necessary treatment for their opioid use while reducing the stigma associated with it. 

Two key uses for digital health tools in engaging and treating patients with opioid addiction or another type of substance abuse disorder? Screening and telehealth. 


The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine population-based screening for drug use. However, screening for opioid use disorder in primary care isn’t standard. 

Why is such screening so important? It can be used to help healthcare providers identify patients with substance use disorders who require referral to treatment. It also can be utilized to supplement a physician’s diagnosis, which is especially helpful as the healthcare labor shortage drags on. Like with other diseases and illnesses, screening for opioid addiction can facilitate early detection, improve quality of life, and prevent future disease complications. 


For healthcare in general, the use of telehealth enables more efficient delivery of care and improves patient outcomes. For use in addiction treatment, this technology boasts multiple benefits, including increased access, improved patient compliance, reduced stigma, lower cost, and decreased risk of noncompliance leading to relapse or overdose death. 

Individuals suffering from an opioid addiction can utilize telehealth to gain access to the appropriate medical professionals to whom they might not otherwise be in contact. They also can use it along with in-person treatment for a fully-comprehensive care regimen. 

The expansion of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly an advantage for those seeking treatment for an opioid use disorder. Research found that it was associated with individuals staying in treatment longer and reducing their risk of medically treated overdose. Also, Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services for opioid use disorder during the pandemic had a 33% lower risk for fatal drug overdose compared with beneficiaries receiving no treatment.

Epion Health Resources 

At Epion Health, our HIPAA-compliant and HITECH-certified telehealth platform enables patients to confidentially access the treatment they need for their opioid addiction — or any other type of substance abuse disorder. They don’t even have to log in or download anything. 

Also, our screeners have been proven to identify more patients at risk for behavioral health issues when compared with manual screening methods. Included in our digital check-in process are the following screeners:

  • ORT: Opioid Risk Tool
  • CAGE-AID: Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • Audit C: Alcohol Abuse (a shortened version of the CAGE-AID screener)
  • CRAFFT: Adolescent Substance Abuse (a digital replica of the CRAFFT screener) 

We recently partnered with Bicycle Health, a Boston-based provider treating more than 8,000 patients in 29 states for opioid use disorder. The company uses digital health and home urine testing alongside an approved medication for treatment: buprenorphine, the main ingredient in the commercial brand Suboxone. 

Bicycle Health is using telehealth to expand access to this care, and payers support the ongoing treatment. Every physician employed by the company is double-boarded in either family medicine or internal medicine and addiction medicine.  

Schedule a meeting with us to learn more about employing digital health tools to help identify and treat patients suffering from opioid use disorder.