Pandemic Prescribing Rules for Buprenorphine Didn’t Increase Opioid Overdose Deaths

    Changes in addiction medication prescribing rules implemented during the pandemic did not increase the proportion of opioid overdose deaths involving buprenorphine, according to a new study.

    The changes permitted doctors to issue new buprenorphine prescriptions via telemedicine, STAT reports. This made the medication much more accessible for patients in rural areas or without access to transportation.

    Researchers found that between April 2020 and June 2021, when buprenorphine prescribing regulations were relaxed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while monthly opioid-involved overdose deaths increased overall, the proportion of those deaths involving buprenorphine did not increase.

    “Research has shown beyond a doubt that medications for opioid use disorder are overwhelmingly beneficial and can be lifesaving, yet they continue to be vastly underused,” senior author Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news release. “Expanding more equitable access to these medications for people with substance use disorders is a critical part of our nation’s response to the overdose crisis. The findings from this study strengthen existing evidence suggesting that greater flexibility in prescribing may be one safe method for working toward this goal.”


    January 2023