Publication date: Nov 07, 2019
Buprenorphine is a Schedule III analgesic that is recommended as the firstline long-acting opioid for the treatment of chronic pain due to its ceiling effect on respiratory depression, adverse effect profile, and analgesic efficacy. However, prescription drug coverage policies commonly require that patients try and fail multiple Schedule II conventional opioids before approval of on-label use of buprenorphine for chronic pain.
A retrospective review was performed looking at coverage of buprenorphine in the forms of Butrans and Belbuca. Patient denial letters, web searches of insurance and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and an online tool (formularylookup.com) were used to assess the coverage and availability of buprenorphine for chronic pain.
Unrestricted access to Butrans was reported for 42% of commercial lives and 11% of Medicare lives in all locations. Unrestricted access to Belbuca was reported for 53% of commercial lives and 23% of Medicare lives in all locations. Oxycodone immediate-release has unrestricted access for 84% of commercial plans and 97% of Medicare plans. Morphine extended-release has unrestricted access for 62% of commercial lives and 65% of Medicare lives.
There are >17,000 prescription opioid-involved deaths each year in the United States. By substituting buprenorphine as the firstline treatment for chronic and even acute pain, there may be fewer prescribed conventional opioids in the United States. Schedule III buprenorphine formulations for chronic pain should be given unrestricted access for appropriate patients before considering a Schedule II opioid as a public health priority.
Fishman, M.A., Scherer, A., Topfer, J., and Kim, P.S.H. Limited Access to On-Label Formulations of Buprenorphine for Chronic Pain as Compared with Conventional Opioids. 04195. 2019 Pain Med.