New Study Finds One in Five Pharmacies Block Access to Key Addiction Treatment Medication

Researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University College of Pharmacy have concluded the largest, most comprehensive study to date when it comes to accessibility to the dispensing of Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine.

“Buprenorphine is a vital, lifesaving medication for people with opioid use disorder, but improving access has been a problem for a variety of reasons,” said senior author Daniel Hartung, Pharm.D., M.P.H., professor in the College of Pharmacy. “Although anecdotes and smaller studies have suggested problems, our study is the first to systematically characterize this barrier.”

The barrier to access is quite common for pharmacies as it turns out.

“This study is the largest and most comprehensive pharmacy-focused assessment of buprenorphine availability to date and confirms that pharmacies can be a significant barrier to buprenorphine access nationwide,” the authors write.

In a telephone audit, the four researchers called a total of 921 pharmacies around the country from May to June 2020, targeting counties with high rates of death from opioid-related overdoses. Of those pharmacies contacted, 183 – or 20% of the total – admitted that they would not dispense buprenorphine. It was uncovered that independent pharmacies and those that operated in southern U.S. states had a significantly higher rate of restricting buprenorphine distribution.

When dealing with patients who are dealing with opioid use disorder and have already made made the effort to change, restricting access can be troublesome in recovery. “Any barrier can be very disruptive, especially when initiating treatment because they’re at high risk to return to use,” said co-author Ximena A. Levander, M.D., M.C.R., clinical instructor in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Neda Kazerouni, a fourth-year student in the OHSU/OSU College of Pharmacy and lead author of the study, said she hopes the research raises awareness of the stigma against people with opioid use disorder.

“Pharmacists can have a role in reducing opioid use disorder by reducing stigma,” Kazerouni said. “Furthermore, community pharmacists should be encouraged to work collaboratively with a patient’s provider to ensure there is continuity of care in all stages of treatment.”

To read the original article, click here.

To read the study published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, click here.