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Supply Steady for Existing Patients Receiving Opioids During COVID-19

FRIDAY, April 30, 2021 -- Existing patients receiving opioid analgesics and buprenorphine for opioid use disorder have continued to receive medications during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online April 15 in JAMA Network Open.

Janet M. Currie, Ph.D., from Princeton University in New Jersey, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional analysis to project use of opioid analgesics and buprenorphine for opioid use disorder from March 18 to Sept. 1, 2020, using a national database of retail prescriptions. For all, existing, and new patients, actual prescribing was compared to projected levels. A total of 452,691,261 prescriptions for opioid analgesics and buprenorphine were analyzed for 90,420,353 patients.

The researchers found that 1,877 million total morphine milligram equivalents of opioid analgesics were prescribed weekly from March 18 to May 19, 2020, compared with 1,843 projected (ratio, 102 percent). The weekly number of opioid-naive patients receiving opioids was 370,051 compared with 564,929 projected (66 percent of projected). Buprenorphine prescribing was as projected for existing patients, while fewer new patients received buprenorphine weekly (9,865 versus 12,008 projected; 82 percent). Opioid prescribing for new patients returned to 100 percent of projected from May 20 to Sept. 1, 2020, while the number of new patients receiving buprenorphine weekly was 90 percent (10,436 versus 11,613 projected).

"These results suggest that the pandemic reversed some of the improvement in access to buprenorphine for opioid use disorder that occurred during the past decade," the authors write.

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