Addiction medication treatment shorter for Black and Hispanic patients, study finds

Black and Hispanic patients receive shorter addiction medication treatment than white patients, according to a study published Nov. 9 in JAMA Psychiatryry.

The study looked at the duration of buprenorphine treatment, the most popular medication to help fight cravings in opioid use disorder recovery, and found that a higher percentage of Black and Hispanic patients didn't remain on the medication for longer than the 180-day minimum. 

According to the study, the median treatment duration was about 53 days for white patients, 44 days for Black patients and less than 40 days for Hispanic patients. 

The analysis looked through 15 years of prescription data by race and ethnicity and found that racial and ethnic gaps in the length of treatment have consistently widened, according to The New York Times

To look at buprenorphine treatment over time across these groups, the researchers used the long-term prescription data from IQVIA to study a random sample of 11 million buprenorphine prescriptions filled between January 2006 and December 2020. They assessed nearly 867,000 treatment episodes from 240,923 patients, of whom 8.1 percent were Black, 6.3 percent were Hispanic and 84.1 percent were white.

According to the Times, the researchers said the duration of treatment is a helpful measure of a patient's quality of care because longer treatments are associated with better long-term clinical outcomes. 

Black and Hispanic patients with access to the medication were also less likely to refill it, with the typical duration of white patients on the medication increasing since 2017 and consistently decreasing among Black patients since 2014 and Hispanic patients since 2009. 

The study also found that, starting in 2011, all racial groups were experiencing an increase in the percentage of episodes that lasted at least six months. In 2016, the percentage among Black patients reversed. 

Bradley Stein, MD, director of the RAND Opioid Policy Center and a senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corp., was not directly associated with the study but spoke to the Times hypothesized about what the findings may mean. 

Dr. Stein said the findings bring the literature forward because "they come right out, and they say, 'Listen, buprenorphine is one of the most effective treatment options we have.' We can't have minorities walking across that threshold for treatment, against all odds, and then not staying as long."

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