Lack of availability may hamper efforts to combat opioid-related deaths
Despite the nation’s epidemic of opioid-related deaths, fewer than 60% of retail pharmacies stock a medication that helps prevent them.
That finding emerges from a new study looking at the availability of buprenorphine, an FDA-approved drug for treating opioid use disorder (OUD) that can be prescribed in outpatient settings and dispensed at retail pharmacies. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration calls it “safe and effective” when taken as prescribed, and that it can help diminish the effects of physical dependency to opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings, increase safety in cases of overdose, and lower the potential for misuse.
The study’s authors analyzed data on buprenorphine prescriptions for about 3,800 patients from providers at a telehealth OUD treatment group operating in 32 states. Just under 58% of the 5,283 pharmacies the researchers contacted said they stocked the drug.
Among pharmacies that were part of chains, 61.6% of those contacted carried buprenorphine, compared to 45.3% of the independent stores. At 82.5%, San Antonio-based H-E-B had the highest percentage of stores stocking the drug, followed by Walgreens (70.3%), Safeway (69.7%), and Meijer and Costco with 66%. Vons had the lowest percentage with 23.1%.
Among the states studied, Washington state had the highest percentage of pharmacies (83.9%) stocking buprenorphine. Next was Wisconsin (79.8%), followed by Oregon (76.9%), Arizona (75.6%), and Illinois (74%). The lowest was Florida, at 37.1%
The authors note that their findings supplement earlier “secret shopper” studies suggesting that pharmacies may constitute a barrier to accessing buprenorphine. Federal and state dispensing regulations may be adding to difficulties obtaining the drug. The federal government’s recent decision to allow providers to prescribe buprenorphine without a special waiver, they say, highlights the importance of pharmacy availability.
The study, “Pharmacy Availability of Buprenorphine for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment in the US,” was published May 26 on JAMA Network Open.