Use of Buprenorphine for Those with Employer-Sponsored Insurance During the Initial Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published in: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Volume 129 (October 2021). doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108384

Posted on on October 22, 2021

by Jonathan H. Cantor, Andrew W. Dick, Rebecca Lee Haffajee, Megan F. Pera, Dena M. Bravata, Bradley D. Stein, Christopher M. Whaley


To quantify weekly rates of use of buprenorphine for those with employer-based insurance and whether the rate differs based on county-level measures of race, historical fatal drug overdose rate, and COVID-19 case rate.


We used 2020 pharmaceutical claims for 4.8 million adults from a privately insured population to examine changes in the use of buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We quantified variation by examining changes in use rates across counties based on their fatal drug overdose rate in 2018, number of COVID-19 cases per capita, and percent nonwhite.


Weekly use of buprenorphine was relatively stable between the first week of January (0.6 per 10,000 enrollees, 95%CI = 0.2 to 1.1) and the last week of August (0.8 per 10,000 enrollees, 95%CI = 0.4 to 1.3). We did not find evidence of any consistent change in use of buprenorphine by county-level terciles for COVID-19 rate as of August 31, 2020, age-adjusted fatal drug overdose rate, and percent nonwhite. Use was consistently higher for counties in the highest tercile of county age-adjusted fatal drug overdose rate when compared to counties in the lowest tercile of county age-adjusted fatal drug overdose rate.


Our results provide early evidence that new federal- and state-level policies may have steadied the rate of using buprenorphine for those with employer-based insurance during the pandemic.

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