Study Finds Pandemic Worsened Disparities in Use of Medications to Treat OUD

June 8, 2022 by Alexa Hornbeck
Study Finds Pandemic Worsened Disparities in Use of Medications to Treat OUD
A medical worker works inside a patient room in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open on June 1 shows the COVID-19 pandemic worsened racial and ethnic disparities in the use of medications to treat patients with opioid use disorder.

During the pandemic, overdose rates among Black individuals surpassed the rate for White individuals for the first time since 1999. 

Researchers from the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs found that buprenorphine, a highly effective medication used to treat opioid use disorder, saw a decline of 2.5%-4% in filled prescriptions among Black, Hispanic and Asian patients, a drop not seen among White patients.

To conduct the study, researchers examined data from the Symphony Health database, which included 92% of all U.S. retail pharmacy claims from May 2019 to June 2021. 



The study also found no immediate decreases in buprenorphine prescription fills among Medicaid patients, but there were wider disparities between racial and ethnic groups using private insurance or enrolled in Medicare.

Researchers say this finding about Medicare recipients implies those programs provided a greater safety net to alleviate pandemic-related losses of income and health insurance coverage compared with other payers. 


To further develop the study, researchers will be taking steps to examine all the factors involved in the decline in medication access and the worsening of racial and ethnic disparities that already existed. 

Alexa can be reached at [email protected]

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