Washington, D.C. –At a Health Committee hearing titled, “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: Using Lessons Learned to Address Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders,” U.S. Senator Susan Collins questioned health experts about the opioid crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also asked how telehealth services could be better utilized to assist Mainers struggling with substance use.
“I'd like to start with a startling statistic. More Mainers died of drug overdoses last year than died from COVID. We set a new record of 502 Mainers who died from drug overdoses. That was an increase of more than 30 percent from 2019,” said Senator Collins. “Now COVID clearly played an indirect role through increased isolation, cutbacks in peer-to-peer counseling, and the lack of ability to deliver services in rural Maine where approximately 15 percent of households statewide do not have access to high-speed Internet so they can't participate in telemedicine sessions. So this is a real problem.”
Sarah Goldsby, MSW, MPH Director of South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, echoed Senator Collins’ concern about the rise in drug overdoses and noted that South Carolina also had record-breaking rates of opioid overdoses last year.
Senator Collins emphasized the importance of telemedicine amid the pandemic by highlighting her recent visit to Aroostook Mental Health Center (AMHC). The leadership of AMHC told her that, as a direct result of switching sessions from in-person to online, they experienced a 20 percent increase in mental health visits. In addition, Senator Collins recently spoke to the head of a major hospital in Maine who told her that for mental health services, their no-show rate had dropped to zero since they transitioned to telemedicine.
The Senator asked Dr. Andy Keller, President and CEO of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, to elaborate on how telemedicine has become widely embraced.
Dr. Kelly responded that telemedicine has been successful because of the lack of stigma. In addition, he noted that the research shows telehealth services are more convenient for patients in many cases.
“And I think that’s because of the anonymity, it’s a little easier to sort of tell the truth,” he said.