Fewer Buprenorphine Initiation Episodes Seen During Pandemic

Number of active buprenorphine episodes comparable to expected number, with fewer initiations and fewer ending of episodes

By Elana Gotkine HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 9, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The number of active prescriptions for buprenorphine remained stable during the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer new treatment episodes and fewer episodes ending, according to a study published online Dec. 6 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Bradley D. Stein, M.D., Ph.D., from the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh, and colleagues examined the patterns of buprenorphine episodes during the pandemic using pharmacy claims representing approximately 92 percent of all prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies in the United States. The number of active, starting, and ending buprenorphine episodes was examined from March 13 to Dec. 1, 2020, and was compared with the expected number of such episodes based on growth from March 13 to Dec. 1, 2019.

The researchers found that in December 2020, the observed number of active buprenorphine episodes was comparable to the expected number, but between March 13 and Dec. 1, 2020, there were 17.2 percent fewer new treatment episodes than the expected number based on the 2019 experience. Similarly, between March 13 and Dec. 1, 2020, the number of episodes that ended was 16.0 percent fewer than expected. Decreases from expected episode starts and ends were seen throughout the study but were greatest in the two months following declaration of a public health emergency.

“While policy efforts may have been successful in maintaining existing patients in treatment, that success did not extend to individuals not yet in treatment,” Stein said in a statement. “We do not know why the number of patients starting treatment dropped so dramatically, although disruptions caused by the pandemic likely contributed to the trend.”

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