Buprenorphine deaths stay low regardless of elevated entry

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a sea change in dependancy medication — specifically, elevated entry to buprenorphine, a drug generally used to deal with opioid use dysfunction.

Now, new information present that regardless of the remedy’s wider availability, deaths involving buprenorphine nonetheless represent a small fraction of general drug mortality.

The research, revealed Friday in JAMA Community Open, presents new perception into the influence of emergency insurance policies enacted in early 2020 to gradual Covid’s unfold whereas preserving entry to dependancy care. The modifications allowed medical doctors to situation new buprenorphine prescriptions through telemedicine, making the remedy much more accessible for sufferers in rural areas or with out entry to transportation.


Buprenorphine, nevertheless, is itself an opioid, and is regulated as a managed substance. Whereas most medical doctors and well being officers welcomed the modifications, a small minority expressed concern that growing buprenorphine entry might have unintended penalties.

These issues had been largely unfounded, based on the brand new analysis, which was authored by prime dependancy researchers on the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention and the Nationwide Institute on Drug Abuse.


Whereas deaths involving buprenorphine did tick upward within the months following the coverage modifications, they elevated at a considerably decrease price than general drug deaths. Between July 2019 and June 2021, the share of opioid-related deaths involving buprenorphine dropped from 3.6% to 2.1%.

Amongst those that died of buprenorphine-involved overdoses, simply 20% had been particularly receiving medicines used to deal with opioid use dysfunction, that means the drug was doubtless acquired illegally.

Extra broadly, almost 93% of deaths involving buprenorphine additionally concerned different substances, that means that fewer than 1 in 600 opioid-involved deaths is attributable to buprenorphine alone.

The research’s publication comes amid a broader motion to extend entry to dependancy medicines. In December, Congress handed laws eliminating a requirement that medical doctors wishing to prescribe the remedy get hold of a particular license often known as an “X-waiver.”

Federal regulators additionally introduced plans to make the emergency telehealth provisions enacted in 2020 everlasting. As well as, Covid-era guidelines permitting sufferers to take house weeks’ value of methadone, one other widespread and extremely efficient remedy for opioid dependancy, may also turn into everlasting. The same research revealed final 12 months confirmed that methadone-related deaths didn’t enhance regardless of the brand new flexibilities.

Nonetheless, entry to buprenorphine shouldn’t be with out its challenges. Some pharmacies have reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration nonetheless conducts raids on amenities filling telemedicine prescriptions for buprenorphine, regardless of the brand new guidelines.

Individually, medical doctors throughout the U.S. have reported elevated problem with buprenorphine “inductions,” or the method of giving sufferers their first dose. Because the drug provide has turn into extra contaminated by fentanyl, buprenorphine has turn into extra prone to trigger extreme withdrawal signs, main sufferers to hunt remedy utilizing alternate options like methadone — or keep away from remedy altogether.

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