COVID-19: Lack of Access to Buprenorphine May Have Contributed to Opioid Overdoses During Pandemic

PainRelief.com Interview with:
Janet Currie, PhD
Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Policy Affairs
Co-Director, Center for Health and Wellbeing
Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544

Janet Currie, PhD

PainRelief.com:  What is the background for this study?

Response: There has been a great deal of discussion and media reports of disrupted access to care because of the pandemic, as well as reports (including the most recent numbers from the CDC which were just released) about increases in drug overdoses linked to opioids. 

We wondered how this might be related to changes in patterns of opioid prescribing and also the prescribing of buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder.

PainRelief.com: What are the main findings?

There are three main findings.  First, existing opioid and buprenorphine patients experienced surprising little disruption in access to medications.  It seems that even though fewer prescriptions were written, they included more medication so that there were few gaps.

Second, there was a drop in prescribing to opioid-naive patients in March and April, but prescribing to new patients rebounded shortly thereafter to levels in line with what one would have expected given previous prescribing patterns.

Third, there was a drop in the prescribing of buprenorphine for opioid use disorder in March and April, and by August, new entries into this form of treatment was still depressed relative to what would have been expected given previous prescribing patterns.  This likely means that some patients who needed such treatment were not getting it, and lack of entry into treatment may have contributed to overdose deaths during the pandemic.

PainRelief.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: It was particularly difficult for people with opioid use disorder to begin treatment with buprenorphine during the pandemic, and this lack of access to treatment may be contributing to overdose deaths.

PainRelief.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: It would be useful to identify barriers to access buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder and to investigate ways to reduce those barriers.

Nothing to disclose.

Citation:

Currie JM, Schnell MK, Schwandt H, Zhang J. Prescribing of Opioid Analgesics and Buprenorphine for Opioid Use Disorder During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(4):e216147. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.6147

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