Buprenorphine treatment lags for younger patients with opioid use disorder

Although buprenorphine treatment for opioid use disorder has increased for most age groups, its use among younger individuals has decreased, according to a JAMA study published on January 21, 2020.

“While it’s encouraging to see an overall increase in prescription rates for buprenorphine, the data suggest that the youngest group is having difficulty accessing this potentially lifesaving treatment,” said lead study author Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, the Elizabeth K. Dollard professor of psychiatry, medicine, and law at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a statement.

The researchers looked at U.S. data of buprenorphine prescriptions filled from 2009 through 2018 by individuals aged 15 to 80 years at retail and nonretail pharmacies. They found that annual rates of buprenorphine use more than doubled from 1.97 per 1,000 people in 2009 to 4.43 per 1,000 people in 2018.

Despite this overall increase, buprenorphine use dropped by around 20% (from 1.76 to 1.40 per 1,000 people) in persons aged 15 to 24 years. This age group also received relatively low doses and experienced low treatment retention. And while buprenorphine treatment is rising, its use is still lower than national estimates of people with opioid use disorder in the United States.

“These findings for young people are particularly worrisome, given that their decrease in buprenorphine treatment occurred during a period when there was an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths for this age group,” said Olfson. “Our results highlight the critical need to improve buprenorphine treatment services, especially for the youngest with opioid use disorder.”