Overdose deaths involving buprenorphine did not proportionally increase with new flexibilities in prescribing
The proportion of opioid overdose deaths involving buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder, did not increase in the months after prescribing flexibilities were put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study. These data provide evidence that may help to inform buprenorphine prescribing policies. Published today in JAMA Network Open, this study was a collaborative effort between researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
These data are consistent with a recent study reporting that COVID-era expansion of methadone access for the treatment of opioid use disorder was not associated with an increase in methadone-involved overdose deaths.
In 2021, nearly 107,000 people died of a drug overdose, with 75 percent of those deaths involving an opioid. The overall rise in overdose deaths is largely attributable to the proliferation in the drug supply of illicit fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid. Though the benefits of providing medication for opioid use disorder are well-known, only 22 percent of people with opioid use disorder receive medications. Buprenorphine, one of these medications, helps reduce opioid misuse, decrease risk for injection-related infectious diseases, and decrease risk for fatal and non-fatal overdoses.
“Research has shown beyond a doubt that medications for opioid use disorder are overwhelmingly beneficial and can be lifesaving, yet they continue to be vastly underused,” said NIDA Director and senior author, Nora Volkow, M.D. “Expanding more equitable access to these medications for people with substance use disorders is a critical part of our nation’s response to the overdose crisis. The findings from this study strengthen existing evidence suggesting that greater flexibility in prescribing may be one safe method for working toward this goal.”
This page was last updated on Friday, January 20, 2023