Talkspace and Bicycle Health team up to bridge mental health and substance use treatment

Steven Loeb · February 1, 2024 · Short URL:

7.7M have mental health conditions and substance use disorder but most are treated for neither

The opioid epidemic remains one of the biggest public health crises of our time, and it’s only getting worse: today, opioid use disorder (OUD) affects 7 to 9 million Americans a year, and annual overdose deaths nearly doubled from 2016 to 2021. At the same time, there’s been significant momentum within the healthcare industry and our nation’s policymakers to address the opioid epidemic. 

"In the past year alone, we’ve seen support for legislation like the TREATS Act and the Telemental Health Care Access Act continue to grow. Alongside a push for a permanent tele prescribing rule from the DEA that continues to extend access to medication for opioid use disorder treatment (MOUD) treatment options, we’re seeing more and more of our nation’s leaders champion increasing access to proven care models," Ankit Gupta, founder and CEO of Bicycle Health, a virtual addiction medicine clinic that helps treat opioid dependence or use disorder, told VatorNews.

"Despite an opioid crisis that continues to worsen, we remain hopeful in the progress of our OUD treatment program and the growing nationwide support in improving access to quality care."

Still, many patients with OUD need support that goes beyond substance use disorder, such as marriage and family therapy; that's outside of Bicycle Health's purview, which is why earlier this week it announced a partnership with Talkspace, the nation’s largest telemedicine-based therapy provider covered by insurance, to offer additional support to its users. 

"For many patients, there is a strong behavioral health component to OUD. Most work and are married; the result means getting good at hiding their OUD to function in life – an isolating and emotionally exhausting experience," Gupta explained.

"Our expectation is that retention in treatment and recovery is better when patients engage in therapy and have wraparound support – for their OUD and for the other challenges they face in their everyday lives."

Meanwhile, for Talkspace patients, the partnership with Bicycle Health increases access to OUD specialty care, including MOUD, as well as therapists and recovery coaches who specialize in treatment of OUD, drug screening, therapy, and peer support.

"At Talkspace, while we offer therapy, we do not treat OUD specifically. This underscores the urgent need for accessible and integrated solutions," said Natalie Cummins, Chief Business Officer at Talkspace.

"That's why we're excited to announce our partnership with Bicycle Health, the nation’s largest telemedicine-based OUD treatment program, to bridge the gap between mental health and substance use treatment, ensuring that individuals receive the support they need from the comfort of their homes."

Founded in 2017, Bicycle Health's solution involves prescribing FDA-approved medications, including Suboxone, as part of its treatment; it also provides Clinical Support Specialists, who work from 6am to 8pm PDT every week day and are available via text, chat, or phone through its app, as well as online chat and appointments, prescription refills that are are sent via email to a local pharmacy, and online support groups. The company has provided treatment to more than 33,000 patients across 32 states.

Talkspace allows users to send unlimited text, video, picture and audio messages to providers, who engage with them five days a week. The company also provides psychiatry services and prescription fulfillment, adolescent therapy and couples counseling. 

For Talkspace, adding OUD specialty care options was the company's way of addressing the growing opioid crisis and the interconnectedness of OUD and other mental health challenges, Cummins explained, noting that the partnership is grounded in a shared commitment to addressing the urgent needs of individuals facing OUD and mental health challenges.

"Speed-to-care is critical for those in a high-risk category such as this. With Talkspace we are able to match members to a dedicated licensed therapist in 1-2 days’ time, and through our asynchronous messaging care, members have access to their safe and secure 'room' on our platform, 24-7," she said.

Respective Talkspace and Bicycle Health patients will access the other’s services through a unique co-branded landing page: if Bicycle patients are not using their insurance on Talkspace, they will be eligible for a $100 discount on their first month of therapy.

"Recognizing the interconnected nature of these issues, both companies have come together to tackle the concerning statistic that, despite 7.7 million Americans experiencing co-occurring mental health conditions and substance use disorder, more than half receive treatment for neither," said Cummins. 

"This collaboration leverages Talkspace's expansive network of nearly 5,000 licensed clinicians and Bicycle Health's expertise in telemedicine-based OUD treatment to create a more inclusive and accessible avenue for mental health and substance use treatment."

The collaboration will also add a number of users to the Bicycle Health platform: Talkspace’s network of more than 5,000 licensed clinicians across all 50 states have treated over a million people in need of therapy, and the company covers approximately 113 million lives through partnerships with employers, health plans, and paid benefits programs. So far, Bicycle has identified at least 30,000 Talkspace members who would be a fit for the Bicycle Health program.

Ultimately, by combining forces, both companies will be better able to achieve their goal of offering the best care to their respective populations. 

"By forging strategic partnerships across the healthcare ecosystem, we are centralizing access to care and making treatment more accessible, convenient, and affordable for our patients. This partnership ultimately helps us continue to provide more people with OUD care so that they can achieve long-term recovery," Gupta said.

"Teaming up with Bicycle Health aligns seamlessly with Talkspace's mission of making high-quality mental health care accessible to all, by allowing us to broaden our scope to include OUD specialty care and ensure a comprehensive approach to mental health and substance use treatment. Together, we centralize access to care, break down barriers, and create a more inclusive and personalized virtual care experience for our users," said Cummins. 

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