LEXINGTON, Ky. — One Kentucky doctor hopes some of the changes brought on by coronavirus stick around after the pandemic. With Kentucky's telehealth regulations eased and new rules more relaxed, Dr. Michelle Lofwall at the University of Kentucky says the changes make opioid treatments more accessible. 

What You Need To Know

  • Eased telehealth regulations prove successful for addiction treatment

  • Doctor at UK says new regulations make treatment more accessible

  • Overdose death rates rise significantly during pandemic

  • Doctor says eased telehealth rules highlight stringent regulations from before

Long before the coronavirus, the opioid epidemic proved deadly for many Kentuckians. Unfortunately, Lofwall says that's continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Fayette County is on track for a record number of overdose deaths in 2020. 

While staying at home has complicated addiction treatment services for some patients, Lofwall is glad to see more access to treatment drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. 

Through video conferencing or phone calls, Lofwall sees her patients and faces fewer restrictions with the medicine she's available to dispense. 

"I think it helps us retain people versus if we didn't have the ability to do it," said Lofwall, who practices at University of Kentucky's First Bridge Clinic. "There's just a continued urgent need for access to lifesaving treatments for opiate use disorder, and this is just been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. We know that both methadone and buprenorphine decrease the mortality for opiate abuse disorder by more than 50 percent."

Lofwall says the success she's had with treating patients virtually through the life-saving drug highlights previous flaws in stringent regulations.

"They really weren't in line with promoting and protecting public health," she said. 

That's not to say the pandemic has made treatment any easier on patients, or helped curb the opioid problem. The doctor says there are reports still showing many overdoses happening in the commonwealth, and while telemedicine can be convenient for some people, others thrive on in-person visits and group therapy sessions.