New buprenorphine prescriptions dropped during the pandemic as overdoses soared

New prescriptions for opioid addiction treatment buprenorphine significantly decreased during the pandemic, while deaths linked to opioid overdoses increased, according to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers from Princeton (N.J.) University projected what prescribing levels for buprenorphine and opioids would have been in 2020 if the pandemic had never happened, based on previous years' prescribing data. They compared those projections to the actual prescriptions for buprenorphine and opioids between March and August of 2020.

During the time period, new prescriptions for opioids rebounded to projected levels, but new prescriptions for buprenorphine stayed low. They dropped by 18 percent of projected levels, returning to 90 percent of projected levels by August. The study found decreases in new buprenorphine prescriptions were especially common in the Northeast.

The researchers estimated that without the pandemic, as many as 36,954 people would have begun buprenorphine treatment between March and August of 2020.

"The really big picture is that it's so hard to get effective treatment compared to how easy it is to get opioids," Janet Currie, PhD, the study’s lead author and the head of Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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