Restrictions on the number of buprenorphine prescriptions a physician can write in a given year do not hinder addiction treatment, as some had feared, according to a Research Letter published online Sept. 20 in JAMA.
Physicians who wish to treat opioid use disorders using buprenorphine are allowed to prescribe the drug to up to 30 patients during the first year they offer the treatment, and after that, they may request that the limit be increased to 100 patients. Some experts have expressed concern that this requirement may pose a barrier to buprenorphine therapy. To examine this possibility, researchers analyzed information in a database of prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies across the United States.
The investigators focused on buprenorphine prescriptions filled during a 3-year period in seven states with the highest rates of addiction therapy: California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. They identified 3,234 physician prescribers and 245,016 patients receiving a new buprenorphine prescription during the study period, said Bradley D. Stein, MD, PhD , of the RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, and his associates.
A substantial proportion of the physician prescribers – 20% – treated only 1-3 patients, and an additional 49% treated fewer than the 30-patient limit. Only 9% of physician prescribers treated more than 75 patients. So the restrictions on the number of concurrent prescriptions do not appear to pose a barrier to buprenorphine therapy, Dr. Stein and his associates said ( JAMA. 2016 Sep 20;316:1211-2 ).
An unexpected finding was that the median duration of buprenorphine therapy was only 53 days, even though clinical recommendations specify that up to 12 months of treatment is beneficial, and longer duration of therapy is associated with better outcomes.
These findings indicate that strategies for improving access to addiction therapy may not need to target prescription limits, the investigators said.
Dr. Stein and his associates said their research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He reported having served on the advisory board of Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, and the other investigators reported receiving royalties from Cambridge University Press and UpToDate.