Cover: National Trends in Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder From 2007 to 2018

National Trends in Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder From 2007 to 2018

Published in: Substance Abuse (2023). doi: 10.1177/08897077231179576

Posted on Jul 14, 2023

by Megan S. Schuler, Brendan Saloner, Adam J. Gordon, Andrew W. Dick, Bradley D. Stein


Buprenorphine is a key medication to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). Since its approval in 2002, buprenorphine access has grown markedly, spurred by major federal and state policy changes. This study characterizes buprenorphine treatment episodes during 2007 to 2018 with respect to payer, provider specialty, and patient demographics.


In this observational cohort study, IQVIA Real World pharmacy claims data were used to characterize trends in buprenorphine treatment episodes across four time periods: 2007-2009, 2010-2012, 2013-2015, and 2016-2018.


In total, we identified more than 4.1 million buprenorphine treatment episodes among 2 540 710 unique individuals. The number of episodes doubled from 652 994 in 2007-2009 to 1 331 980 in 2016-2018. Our findings indicate that the payer landscape changed dramatically, with the most pronounced growth observed for Medicaid (increased from 17% of episodes in 2007-2009 to 37% of episodes in 2016-2018), accompanied by relative declines for both commercial insurance (declined from 35 to 21%) and self-pay (declined from 27 to 11%). Adult primary care providers (PCPs) were the dominant prescribers throughout the study period. The number of episodes among adults older than 55 increased more than 3-fold from 2007-2009 to 2016-2018. In contrast, youth under age 18 experienced an absolute decline in buprenorphine treatment episodes. Buprenorphine episodes increased in length from 2007-2018, particularly among adults over age 45.


Our findings demonstrate that the U.S. experienced clear growth in buprenorphine treatment--particularly for older adults and Medicaid beneficiaries--reflecting some key health policy and implementation success stories. Yet, since the prevalence of OUD and fatal overdose rate have also approximately doubled during this period, the observed growth in buprenorphine treatment did not demonstrably impact the pronounced treatment gap. To date, only a minority of individuals with OUD currently receive treatment, indicating continued need for systemic efforts to equitably improve treatment uptake.

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