Buprenorphine misuse decreased among U.S. adults with opioid use disorder from 2015-2019

NIH study highlights the need to expand buprenorphine-based treatment while monitoring and reducing misuse

Data from a nationally representative survey indicate that in 2019, nearly three-fourths of U.S. adults reporting buprenorphine use did not misuse the medication in the past 12 months. In addition, buprenorphine misuse among people with opioid use disorder trended downward between 2015-2019, despite increases in the number of people receiving buprenorphine treatment. The study, published today in JAMA Network Open, was conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication to treat opioid use disorder and to relieve severe pain. Buprenorphine used to treat opioid use disorder works by partially activating opioid receptors in the brain, which can help reduce opioid cravings, withdrawal, and overall use of other opioids.

In 2020, more than 93,000 people lost their lives due to drug overdoses, with 75% of those deaths involving an opioid. However, in 2019, less than 18% of people with a past-year opioid use disorder received medications to treat their addiction, in part due to stigma and barriers to accessing these medications. To prescribe buprenorphine for treatment of opioid use disorder, clinicians must do so within a certified Opioid Treatment Program, or submit a notice of intent to the federal government, and are limited in how many patients they can treat at one time. Only a small proportion of clinicians are eligible to treat opioid use disorder with buprenorphine, and even fewer prescribe the medication.

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This page was last updated on Friday, January 21, 2022