1 in 5 pharmacies won't dispense opioid used to treat addiction, study finds

One in five pharmacies won't dispense buprenorphine, a key treatment for opioid addiction, a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found. 

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy in Corvallis, called 921 pharmacies across the U.S. in May and June 2020 to ask if they would prescribe buprenorphine. They focused on pharmacies in 473 counties with high rates of death from opioid overdoses, according to an April 26 news release

The researchers found that 183 pharmacies, or 20 percent of the total, indicated they would not dispense buprenorphine. Independent pharmacies and those in Southern states were significantly more likely to restrict access to the treatment. 

"Buprenorphine is a vital, lifesaving medication for people with opioid use disorder, but improving access has been a problem for a variety of reasons," said senior author Daniel Hartung, PharmD, professor in the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy. "Although anecdotes and smaller studies have suggested problems, our study is the first to systematically characterize this barrier."

Buprenorphine was first FDA approved in 2002 and relieves withdrawal symptoms and pain. The treatment normalizes brain function by acting on the same targets in the brain as prescription opioids or heroin, the researchers said. It's one of three drugs FDA-approved to treat opioid dependence, along with methadone and naltrexone. 

"This study is the largest and most comprehensive pharmacy-focused assessment of buprenorphine availability to date and confirms that pharmacies can be a significant barrier to buprenorphine access nationwide," the authors wrote.

Find the full study here

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