Discussing Prescription Rates for Opioid Use Disorder During COVID-19 Pandemic

Prescription rates of buprenorphine and opioid analgesics for OUD fell during the COVID-19 pandemic for new patients, but existing treatment was not affected.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional medical care, from prescription rates to differences in care.

Investigators, led by Janet Currie of Princeton University, found in a recent study that prescriptions for opioid analgesics and buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) decreased among new patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not for existing patients.

In an interview with HCPLive, Currie spoke on the distinctions between the two prescription groups for buprenorphine and the effect of the COVID-19 on treatment rates.

"In the first few months of the pandemic, there was a large fall in the number of new prescriptions, which we identify as people entering treatment," Currie said. "And then there was kind of a slow recovery, but in August, it was still 10% lower than what we would have expected, given the general trend for patients with OUD."

Currie also spoke about prescription rates of opioids, as they relate to addiction rates and overdoses. The study noted that while opioid prescribing rates are staying a high level, if they are not prescribed, a number of those patients will not become addicted.

"We know that these are very addictive drugs and if you prescribe them to 100 people, you will probably wind up with 8 of them addicted," Currie said. "Anything that prevents opioid prescriptions probably prevents some addiction down the road."

She also spoke on barriers to treatment might mean a fraction of those people will not get the care they need and may overdose as a result.

However, Currie also noted easier regulations in prescribing buprenorphine for OUD and the positive effects of telemedicine on treatment as two important changes due to the pandemic.

"I also think the greater use of telehealth for mental health is a really positive development, in that it is allowing some people who would have had a lot of difficulty in accessing care to access care," Currie said. "As a demonstration of what is possible, I think the pandemic may play a useful role."