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Impact of a Publicly-Funded Pharmacare Program on Prescription Stimulant use Among Children and Youth: A Population-Based Observational Natural Experiment.

OBJECTIVE: Stimulants are first-line pharmacotherapy for individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, disparities in drug coverage may contribute to inequitable treatment access. In January 2018, the government of Ontario, Canada, implemented a publicly-funded program (OHIP+) providing universal access to medications at no cost to children and youth between the ages of 0 and 24. In April 2019, the program was amended to cover only children and youth without private insurance. We studied whether these policy changes were associated with changes in prescription stimulant dispensing to Ontario children and youth.

METHODS: We conducted a population-based observational natural experiment study of stimulant dispensing to children and youth in Ontario between January 2013 and March 2020. We used interventional autoregressive integrated moving average models to estimate the association between OHIP+ and its subsequent modification with stimulant dispensing trends.

RESULTS: The implementation of OHIP+ was associated with a significant immediate increase in the monthly rate of stimulant dispensing of 53.6 individuals per 100,000 population (95% confidence interval [CI], 36.8 to 70.5 per 100,000) and a 14.2% (95% CI, 12.8% to 15.6%) relative percent increase in stimulant dispensing rates between December 2017 and March 2019 (1198.6 vs. 1368.7 per 100,000 population). The April 2019 OHIP+ program amendment was associated with an increase in monthly stimulant dispensing trends of 10.2 individuals per 100,000 population (95% CI, 5.0 to 15.5), with rates increasing 7.5% (95% CI, 6.2% to 8.7%) between March 2019 and March 2020 (1368.7 vs. 1470.8 per 100,000 population). These associations were most pronounced among males, children and youth living in the highest income neighbourhoods and individuals aged 20 to 24.

CONCLUSION: A publicly-funded pharmacare program was associated with more children and youth being dispensed stimulants.

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