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In late February, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Bicycle Health, and Wellpath announced a collaboration to address the severe SUD crisis in prison inmates and the overdose deaths associated with incarceration. In the two weeks after leaving incarceration, former inmates are 40 times more likely to suffer an opioid-related death from overdose than the general public. Offering SUD treatment during incarceration through telehealth has officially moved prison telehealth into the fast lane.
Until now, medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) treatment regimens have been underutilized in criminal justice settings, according to a 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report. Telehealth has been used to prescribe and monitor the use of medications like buprenorphine successfully. This FDA-approved medication limits painful opioid withdrawal symptoms helps prevent overdose, and supports long-term recovery. Wellpath and Bicycle Health will work with formerly incarcerated patients in the FBOP’s Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) in 42 states. The primary goal of this collaboration is to improve the availability and clinically appropriate utilization of MOUD among this underserved patient population.
The roles and rationales for the three parties who have recently joined forces to assist opioid-addicted inmates are detailed below:
- The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) is responsible for the care and custody of over 151,000 federal inmates, of which nearly half are incarcerated for federal drug use. It was established in 1930 to provide more progressive and humane care for federal inmates, to professionalize the prison service, and to ensure consistent and centralized administration of federal prisons.
- San Francisco-based Bicycle Health has provided integrated medical and behavioral health treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) through telehealth since 2020. Based in Boston, Bicycle Health brings a successful virtual MAT program for OUD. Individuals enrolled in the FBOJ program will access Bicycle’s telehealth visits, medication management, peer support groups, psychotherapy, and in-home diagnostic testing. In June of 2022, it closed a $50 million Series B funding round, bringing its total funding to $83 million.
- Nashville, Tennessee-based Wellpath is a medical and mental health provider that serves vulnerable patients, including those in prisons and jails. With nearly 16,000 clinicians and professionals in 36 states across the US and Australia, Wellpath provides medical and mental healthcare services for over 300,000 patients daily in about 600 facilities, including prisons, jails, state hospitals, forensic treatment, and civil commitment centers, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP).
Bicycle Health’s virtual treatment model, which has shown patient retention rates that are appreciably higher and no-show rates that are significantly lower than in-person averages, will deliver life-saving clinical and behavioral care to a population in need. Bicycle Health and Wellpath plan to grow the service to meet the recovery needs of formerly incarcerated patients – to improve their health and the community’s overall health and reduce recidivism. Justin Guadagno, Chief Commercial Officer at Bicycle Health, stated the following:
Nearly one-in-five incarcerated people struggle with opioid use disorder, and unfortunately, opioid-related overdose is the leading cause of death for those released from jail or prison. Our collaboration with Wellpath creates an entirely new, scalable approach to rehabilitation that will give people a fighting chance to achieve long-term recovery when they re-enter society.
Bicycle Health’s virtual care model includes telehealth visits, medication management, peer support groups, psychotherapy access, and regular in-home diagnostics testing. Thomas Pangburn, MD, Chief Clinical Officer at Wellpath, added the following comments:
Telehealth is now well understood to be a widespread, highly effective treatment delivery option for patients with opioid use disorder, which is why we chose to work with Bicycle Health. In doing so, we’re able to overcome many of the obstacles that prevent formerly incarcerated people from getting the MOUD treatment they need… This collaboration helps streamline the process for re-entry by providing evidence-based and convenient treatment options, which can make a real difference for those struggling with opioid addiction.