Physicians Are Ignoring Addiction Status and Prescribing Opioids Anyway

MARCH 07, 2017
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
pain management, addiction medicine, opioid use disorder, pharmacy, opioids, prescription drugs, buprenorphine, methadonePhysicians are ignoring guidelines on safe prescribing of opioids.
“The statistics are startling,” G. Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, (pictured) an associate professor epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), said in a news release in regards to a recent study conducted at the university.
Buprenorphine (Butrans/Purdue; others) is commonly used to treat opioid addiction. The prescription drug helps patients become less physically dependent on opioids and provides relatively mild withdrawal symptoms. In the journal Addiction, the JHSPH researchers reported that 2 in 5 people (43%) receiving buprenorphine are also receiving an opioid prescription.
“Policymakers may believe that people treated for opioid addiction are cured, but people with substance use disorders have a lifelong vulnerability, even if they are not actively using,” explained Alexander, who is the study’s lead author and co-director of the school’s Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.
The team analyzed data from 38,096 patients from 11 states in the United States. The patient data was gathered from a cohort of around 50 million patients filling 2 or more opioid prescriptions for any calendar year between 2006 to 2013. Of these, 55% were female and half ranged from 29 to 54 in age. The participants were using buprenorphine between January 2010 to July 2012 and first treatments lasted for a median of 55 days (interquartile range (IQR): 28 to 168 days).
The results showed that in addition to the nearly half of patients receiving buprenorphine and opioids at the same time, two-thirds of people (67%) were given opioid prescriptions within 12 months after their buprenorphine treatment was completed. While alarming, Alexander said that these statistics are in line with those showing patients on methadone (Diskets/Cebert Pharmaceuticals Inc.; others), used to treat narcotic addiction, also continue to use opioids after treatment.

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