Changes in Buprenorphine and Methadone Supplies in the US During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published in: JAMA Network Open, Volume 5, No. 7 (July 2022). doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.23708

Posted on RAND.org on September 30, 2022

by Annie Chen, David Powell, Bradley D. Stein

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Importance

The opioid crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, with concerns over major disruptions to medication treatment of opioid use disorder.

Objective

To investigate whether the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with disruption of buprenorphine and methadone supplies in the US.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This repeated cross-sectional study used ARCOS (Automated Reports and Consolidated Ordering System) data, which monitor the flow of controlled substances in the US, from January 1, 2012, through June 30, 2021. Manufacturers and point of sale or distribution at the dispensing or retail level, including hospitals, retail pharmacies, clinicians, midlevel clinicians, and teaching institutions, were included in the analysis.

Exposures

COVID-19 pandemic.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Quarterly supplies of buprenorphine and methadone per capita in milligrams.

Results

The per capita supply of methadone dropped from 13.2 mg in the first quarter of 2020 to 10.5 mg in the second quarter of 2020, whereas the per capita supply of buprenorphine increased from 3.6 mg to 3.7 mg in the same period. The per capita supply of methadone declined 20% (–2.7 mg) in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the first quarter of 2020, and the supply had not returned to 2019 levels as of June 2021, whereas the supply of buprenorphine per person increased consistently during the same period. There were considerable state disparities in the reduction of the methadone supply during the pandemic, with many states experiencing pronounced per capita supply decreases, including reductions as great as 50% in New Hampshire and Florida. These decreases in per capita methadone supply were not compensated by proportional increases in the per capita buprenorphine supply (linear fit, 0.17 [95% CI, –0.43 to 0.76]; P = .47).

Conclusions and Relevance

This cross-sectional study of buprenorphine and methadone supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic found a pronounced decline in the methadone supply but no disruption to the buprenorphine supply. Future research is needed to explain the pronounced state disparities in the methadone supply.

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