New York State Department of Health Issues Commissioner Determination for the Use of Telemedicine to Ensure Continued Access to Life saving Medication for New Yorkers Struggling with Mental Health and Opioid Use Disorder

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 31, 2023) – As opioid-related deaths continue to rise, New York State Department of Health Acting Commissioner Dr. James McDonald today issued a commissioner's determination allowing authorized health care practitioners to continue using telemedicine as an option to treat and prescribe to New Yorkers battling opioid use disorder, limited to the duration of the federally-declared public health emergency due to COVID-19. This guidance allows the use of telemedicine for patient evaluations and prescriptions to the same extent that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) permits for the duration of the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency to ensure patients maintain access to buprenorphine and all schedule II-V controlled substances, provided it occurs in compliance with all other applicable federal and New York State laws.

"This determination continues to allow health care providers to initiate buprenorphine with a telephone evaluation, expanding access to this lifesaving medication to help combat the opioid epidemic in New York," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Telemedicine options provide critical support, therapy, and medication to New Yorkers with opioid use disorder, while also reducing traditional barriers and ensuring that this medication is widely accessible."

With the widespread prevalence of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl—half of all overdose deaths in the State now involve fentanyl—this guidance ensures providers can conduct patient evaluations, initiate care, and prescribe the life-saving medications buprenorphine or buprenorphine/naloxone by using telephone communications for maintenance or detoxification treatment of an opioid use disorder as quickly as possible. The prescribing of any other controlled substance using telemedicine requires providers to conduct a two-way audio-visual communication.

New York State has also welcomed the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act, which allows all practitioners holding a standard DEA registration to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder, without limitations on the number of patients.

Buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone treat opioid use disorder by reducing or eliminating cravings, relieving withdrawal symptoms, and providing protection against overdose. Because of its effectiveness in treating those with opioid disorders, the Department, in collaboration with the NYS Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS), has issued best practices for providing low-threshold buprenorphine. Increased access to these medications is necessary for New Yorkers struggling with opioid use disorders.

OASAS Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham said, "The expansion of telehealth services has helped people stay connected to care, and reach more individuals who may face barriers to finding traditional services. This flexibility allows us to meet people where they are and bring them the help they need. Increasing this accessibility is critical as we continue to see record numbers of overdose deaths."

In addition, the policy also allows video telehealth visits to initiate and continue treatment with controlled medications for other diagnoses. Access to these medications is vital for many mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other disorders that may require controlled medications may include hormone replacement therapy for gender-affirming treatment, sleep disorders, and chronic pain from cancer and other causes.

Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, "Telehealth is a powerful tool that played a major role in helping us address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed for the continuity of care, even while people were required to isolate or quarantine. It also helps us to address inequities in our healthcare system and expand access to care. I fully support Dr. McDonald's determination to allow healthcare providers to utilize telehealth to treat and prescribe medication for New Yorkers who are struggling with opioid use disorder and other mental illnesses."

New Yorkers struggling with an addiction, or whose loved ones are struggling, can find help and hope by calling the State's toll-free, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369) or by texting HOPENY (Short Code 467369). Many primary care clinicians can also prescribe buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone.

More information about buprenorphine is available here, and here.

Information about the Department's Opioid Overdose Prevention Program is available here.

Mental Health resources can be found here.