Cost, access biggest barriers to addiction recovery, but telehealth helps make care more accessible: survey

The biggest barriers to joining an opioid recovery program are cost and lack of fitting or available programs, according to a new survey put out by virtual recovery provider Bicycle Health.

According to the survey, which reached more than 930 Bicycle Health patients, three-quarters of respondents don’t believe the pandemic has complicated recovery. A notable portion of patients, in fact, reported it has made it easier to maintain recovery. A few cited reasons praised the telemedicine format for enabling anonymity and convenience. 

“Over 10 million people misuse opioids each year, yet extreme stigma, lack of accessibility, and the cost of treatment prevent them from reaching recovery,” said Ankit Gupta, CEO and founder of Bicycle Health, in a statement. “It’s critical that we as a society not only provide better treatment options that fit into the daily lives of those with opioid use disorder—but also that we are shifting the cultural conversation around how they recover.”

More than half of respondents reported having a primary care physician and said they feel comfortable talking to them about addiction and treatment. Meanwhile, about 4 in 10 do not have one and do not feel comfortable speaking to them about their condition.

For a few questions, about 530 respondents answered. Of these, most had not spoken to their physician about treatment in the past two years. The vast majority also said their physician did not help them identify a recovery program. That’s one reason Bicycle Health wanted to be direct-to-consumer from the get-go, Gupta told Fierce Healthcare, reaching patients through channels like social media. Many barriers still exist preventing physicians from referring to recovery programs, including stigma, a lack of resources and a lack of financial incentives. Currently, up to two doctors refer patients to Bicycle Health a day, the company said. 

Having relationships with primary care physicians is critical for a population often in need of care for comorbidities and chronic conditions. But Bicycle Health’s own referral rates to primary care physicians could be better, Gupta acknowledged. That’s an area the startup is working to expand, Gupta said, now with a team in place dedicated to building out partnerships. To determine the providers to partner with, Bicycle Health takes a similar approach to determining what pharmacies it works with by compiling a database of ones not discriminatory, in patients’ vicinity and other data points, Gupta explained.

Nearly a third of respondents to the survey blamed individuals for the opioid crisis, while just over a quarter blamed drug companies. 

“There’s no one person that is accountable,” Gupta said, interpreting the results. “This is a failing of the system as a whole. Let’s not try to find scapegoats. Let’s try to fix stuff.” The way forward, he believes, includes better access to education along with care and harm reduction for patients and expanding physician training and the ability to prescribe life-saving buprenorphine.