Physician-pharmacist collaboration may benefit opioid addiction treatment, study says

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A new study suggests that collaboration between physicians and pharmacists may increase the adherence to and participant satisfaction of treatments for opioid use disorder.

Researchers at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., looked at 71 participants in buprenorphine maintenance therapy for opioid use disorder to study the transfer of care from waivered physicians treating them to trained community pharmacists providing their prescriptions.

Because buprenorphine prescribing requires a federal waiver, fewer than 10 percent of primary care providers are authorized to prescribe the drug. As a result, more than 20 million people in the United States live in a county without a buprenorphine-waivered physician.

The Duke study involved the 71 participants as well as six physicians and six community pharmacists. As part of the study, from March to December 2018, the physician initially prescribed the buprenorphine until a satisfactory dose was reached. Then, participants in the study attended monthly maintenance visits with trained pharmacists who dispensed the medication, assessed how well the medication was working, and provided counseling and referrals to specialists, as needed. Pharmacists then gave feedback to the physicians to adjust the buprenorphine as necessary.

The researchers found that nearly 89 percent of the participants remained in the study, and 95.3 percent adhered to the daily medication regimen. During the 6-month trial, no opioid-related emergencies or hospitalizations were required. Additionally, the proportion of opioid-positive urine drug screens was less than 5 percent.

Researchers concluded that the study offers support for the idea of advancing physician-pharmacists team-based approaches to make use of community pharmacies as a way to expand access to opioid use disorder treatment with buprenorphine.

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