Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

New Study: Buprenorphine for Opioid Use Disorder Underused in Washington State

Two bottles of buprenorphine and naloxone medication

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a major concern in the United States. Treatment medications like methadone and buprenorphine have been found to be effective at improving functioning and reducing deaths, with longer treatment periods leading to better outcomes for health issues, quality of life, employment, and more.

Because people do better when they stay on OUD treatment medications for longer periods of time, ADAI principal research scientist Dr. Caleb Banta-Green and colleagues wanted to look at current use of buprenorphine in Washington State to see how long people were on buprenorphine, what factors kept them in treatment, and what patterns of care looked like.

Looking at prescription monitoring program data for more than 25,000 Washingtonians, the researchers found that people on buprenorphine for OUD used the medication, on average, for just 84 days – much less than the minimum guideline of six months.

Dr. Banta-Green and team also found that many people needed two or more care episodes (i.e., consecutive prescriptions) before they stayed on buprenorphine for a longer time.

“The data shows that people are trying to manage their addiction by seeking buprenorphine multiple times,” said Dr. Banta-Green in an interview with UW Medicine Newsroom. “To us, this means that people with opioid-use disorder shouldn’t give up in frustration when they relapse – and neither should the clinicians who prescribe buprenorphine.”

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Study article: Banta-Green CJ, Hansen RN, Ossiander EM, Wasserman CR, Merrill JO. Buprenorphine utilization among all Washington State residents’ based upon prescription monitoring program data – Characteristics associated with two measure of retention and patterns of care over time. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 2021 (in press).