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National trends in buprenorphine prescribing before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OBJECTIVE: Recent studies have shown that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of buprenorphine prescription dispensing for opioid use disorder (OUD) were relatively stable. However, whether that pattern continued later in the pandemic is unclear. This study examines the monthly rate of dispensed buprenorphine prescriptions during the early period and the later period of the pandemic.

METHODS: The study uses interrupted time series analysis to examine buprenorphine prescription dispensed, average day's supply, payment source, and the number of patients with a dispensed buprenorphine prescription. The study utilized January 2019-April 2021 data from IQVIA National Prescription Audit, PayerTrack and Total Patient Tracker databases.

RESULTS: After an initial increase in the number of patients prescribed buprenorphine in the early period of the pandemic, the monthly rate of patients prescribed buprenorphine increased at a lower rate compared to the pre-pandemic period (6100 vs 4600/month). The study observed a decline in the number of buprenorphine prescriptions dispensed both in levels and growth rate during the pandemic, but an increase occurred in the average day's supply of buprenorphine prescriptions (17 days pre-pandemic vs 18.6 day during the pandemic). Medicaid became the primary payer of buprenorphine prescriptions as the pandemic continued, while buprenorphine prescriptions paid for by private insurance declined.

DISCUSSION: Expanding and maintaining access to treatment for OUD were key priorities in federal and state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of our study underscore the importance of policy efforts to help increase buprenorphine prescribing for OUD.

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