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Gaps Found in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment During Pandemic

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers examined OUD treatment (medication fills, outpatient visits, and urine tests) during the early months of the pandemic among privately insured individuals.
  • The researchers found that among individuals already receiving OUD medication, more filled at least 1 OUD prescription in March through May 2020 vs March through May 2019.
  • Among individuals not receiving medication in January/February, the percentage receiving at least 1 fill, OUD visit, and urine test in March through May 2020 was lower than in 2019.

HealthDay News–Patients already receiving opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment continued to receive care during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some disruption to urine testing, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Haiden A. Huskamp, Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues examined OUD treatment (medication fills, outpatient visits, and urine tests) during the early months of the pandemic among privately insured individuals (ages 18 to 64 years) identified through the OptumLabs Data Warehouse. Results for January through May 2020 were compared to the same time period in 2019.

The researchers found that among individuals already receiving OUD medication (16,128 patients, with 74.47% using buprenorphine, in 2019; 18,068 patients, with 74.19% using buprenorphine, in 2020), more filled at least 1 OUD prescription in March through May 2020 vs March through May 2019 (67.99% vs 65.37%). There was no significant difference seen in the percentage having at least 1 OUD visit in March through May 2020 vs 2019 (26.85% and 27.20%, respectively), but the percentage receiving at least 1 urine test was lower in 2020 vs 2019 (10.56% vs 13.81%). There was an increase in OUD visits delivered via telemedicine during 2020 (0.48% for week of March 1 vs 23.53% in week 13). Among individuals not receiving medication in January/February, the percentage receiving at least 1 fill, OUD visit, and urine test in March through May 2020 was lower than in 2019.

“Going forward, we need to do a better job of making sure that patients can safely receive all of the follow-up care they need, including adequate monitoring of their opioid use disorder through periodic urine drug testing, which is an important component of care that can inform a patient’s treatment,” Huskamp said in a statement. “We also need to make sure that new patients aren’t falling through the cracks.”

One author disclosed being an expert witness in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.

Abstract/Full Text

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