Overdose Crisis Endures, Yet Few People Receive Existing Effective Treatment

Even before Covid-19, despite enormous unmet need, life-saving buprenorphine is vastly underprescribed

(New York, NY, August 24, 2020) –Approximately half of clinicians authorized to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD), one of three medications for OUD, are actively prescribing the medication, according to a JAMA study led by researchers at The Pew Charitable Trusts, Deerfield Management Company, and RAND Corporation.

The research letter, which appeared in the August 24th online issue of JAMA Network Open, examines national opioid use disorder buprenorphine prescribing patterns by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-approved patient limits.

Buprenorphine is considered one of the most effective therapies to treat OUD. In order to become an authorized prescriber of buprenorphine to treat OUD, clinicians are required to undergo special training and licensing with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and DEA.

The authors of the paper point out that federal regulations currently limit these waivered clinicians to treating 30, 100, or 275 patients concurrently, with clinicians limited to treating 30 or 100 patients able to request an increased limit.

Based on a national analysis of clinician databases from the DEA and SAMHSA and clinician-level prescribing information from Symphony Health, the authors found that of 55,938 waivered clinicians, only 50.9 percent wrote at least one buprenorphine prescription during the 22-month period of April 2017 through January 2019.

Median patient monthly census calculations revealed 275-patient clinicians treated 36.9% of their patient limit, while 100-patient and 30-patient clinicians treated 23.9% and 11.3% of their patient limits, respectively.

“More than 2 million people in the United States have an opioid use disorder, yet few of them receive any type of specialty treatment, including buprenorphine,” said study co-author Alexandra Duncan, senior officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ substance use prevention and treatment initiative. “Removing barriers to buprenorphine prescribing can help close this treatment gap and ensure that people have access to the evidence-based addiction care they need.”

In recognition that buprenorphine is an important option for patients because it eliminates the need for the daily clinic visit required of most patients receiving methadone, NYC Health and Hospitals expanded access to the medication by integrating prescribing into primary care. Additional benefits of buprenorphine are its low potential for abuse and negligible risk for overdose.

“Our finding that about half of doctors who can prescribe buprenorphine aren’t doing so makes clear that increasing the number of patients receiving it is not just about increasing the number of clinicians who can prescribe it,” added co-author Bradley Stein, Director of RAND’s Opioid Policy Center. “We need to focus efforts on increasing reimbursement for buprenorphine’s use, educating prescribers, patients, and their families about  its effectiveness, and combatting the stigma that hampers the effective treatment of opioid use disorder.”

“Leveraging multiple large databases not only allowed us to confirm earlier evidence that clinicians are prescribing below their patient limits, but also enabled us to continue to peel back the onion on the scope of this problem, said co-author Jared Anderman, director of data analytics at the Deerfield Institute, a division of Deerfield Management Company.  “We are looking forward to continuing to work with the powerful dataset we have created and identifying additional opportunities to make an impact.”

Authors of the study, titled, “Monthly Patient Volumes of Buprenorphine-Waivered Clinicians in the U.S.,” are:  Alexandra Duncan (The Pew Charitable Trusts); Jared Anderman (Deerfield Management Company); Travis Deseran (previously Deerfield Management Company); Ian Reynolds (The Pew Charitable Trusts); and Bradley D. Stein (RAND Corporation). The work was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and Deerfield Management Company.

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About Deerfield Management Company

Deerfield is a healthcare investment management firm committed to advancing healthcare through investment, information and philanthropy.

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