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Utilization and disparities in medication treatment for opioid use disorder among patients with comorbid opioid use disorder and chronic pain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on utilization of medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) among patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) and chronic pain is unclear.

METHODS: We analyzed New York State (NYS) Medicaid claims from pre-pandemic (August 2019-February 2020) and pandemic (March 2020-December 2020) periods for beneficiaries with and without chronic pain. We calculated monthly proportions of patients with OUD diagnoses in 6-month-lookback windows utilizing MOUD and proportions of treatment-naïve patients initiating MOUD. We used interrupted time series to assess changes in MOUD utilization and initiation rates by medication type and by race/ethnicity.

RESULTS: Among 20,785 patients with OUD and chronic pain, 49.3% utilized MOUD (versus 60.3% without chronic pain). The pandemic did not affect utilization in either group but briefly disrupted initiation among patients with chronic pain (β=-0.009; 95% CI [-0.015, -0.002]). Overall MOUD utilization was not affected by the pandemic for any race/ethnicity but opioid treatment program (OTP) utilization was briefly disrupted for non-Hispanic Black individuals (β=-0.007 [-0.013, -0.001]). The pandemic disrupted overall MOUD initiation in non-Hispanic Black (β=-0.007 [-0.012, -0.002]) and Hispanic individuals (β=-0.010 [-0.019, -0.001]).

CONCLUSIONS: Adults with chronic pain who were enrolled in NYS Medicaid before the COVID-19 pandemic had lower MOUD utilization than those without chronic pain. MOUD initiation was briefly disrupted, with disparities especially in racial/ethnic minority groups. Flexible MOUD policy initiatives may have maintained overall treatment utilization, but disparities in initiation and care continuity remain for patients with chronic pain, and particularly for racial/ethnic minoritized subgroups.

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