Study: 1 in 5 Pharmacies Blocks Access to Addiction Treatment Buprenorphine

May 3, 2021
Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

Twenty percent of the pharmacies contacted indicated they would not dispense buprenorphine, with independent pharmacies and those in southern US states found significantly more likely to restrict the drug.

One in 5 pharmacies refuse to dispense a medication to treat opioid addiction, according to a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Researchers contacted hundreds of pharmacies to determine whether they would dispense buprenorphine (Suboxone, Indivior) and found it was common for pharmacies to block access to the drug.

“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 Daniel Hartung, PharmD, MPH, professor in the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy, in a press release. “Although anecdotes and smaller studies have suggested problems, our study is the first to systematically characterize this barrier.”

The researchers called a total of 921 pharmacies throughout the United States from May 2020 to June 2020, focusing on 473 US counties with high rates of death from opioid-related overdoses. Twenty percent of the pharmacies contacted indicated they would not dispense buprenorphine, with independent pharmacies and those in southern US states found significantly more likely to restrict the drug.

“If I see a patient and they want to get started on buprenorphine, they've already gone through a lot of processing to make that behavior change,” said Ximena A. Levander, MD, MCR, clinical instructor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, in the release. "Any barrier can be very disruptive, especially when initiating treatment because they're at high risk to return to use.”

Buprenorphine was approved by the FDA in 2002. It relieves withdrawal symptoms and pain, and normalizes brain function by acting on the same targets in the brain as prescription opioids or heroin. It is 1 of 3 FDA-approved medicines for treating opioid dependence, along with methadone and naltrexone.

“Pharmacists can have a role in reducing opioid use disorder by reducing stigma,” said Neda Kazerouni, lead author of the study, in the release. “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.”

REFERENCE

One in five pharmacies blocks access to key medication to treat addiction [news release]. EurekAlert; April 26, 2021. Accessed April 27, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/ohs-oif042621.php