Few know PCPs can prescribe opioid use disorder meds: Study

Most Americans are unaware that primary care providers can provide medications for opioid use disorder, a barrier that could contribute to low rates of medication uptake, a study published June 28 in JAMA Network Open found. 

The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institutes of Health, polled 1,234 respondents on their knowledge and beliefs about medication treatment for opioid use disorder. Six in 10 respondents said they did not know primary care physicians can prescribe medications for opioid use disorder. 

In 2021, around 1 in 5 people with opioid use disorder received medication treatment, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.

With fewer than 2,500 physicians specialized in addiction medicine in the U.S., primary care physicians could get significantly more people into treatment, the NIH said in a June 28 news release. The federal government has made changes to relax the requirements for who can prescribe buprenorphine and other drugs to treat opioid use disorder. The changes have resulted in more prescribers, the NIH said, but have yet to increase the number of people receiving treatment. 

Three key findings: 

  1. Around 25% of survey respondents correctly identified that primary care providers can prescribe medication for opioid use disorder. Another 13% said primary care providers could not provide the medicine, and the majority were unsure. 

  2. Black respondents were more likely to say primary care providers could not provide medication for opioid use disorder. The findings highlight an information disparity that could create further barriers to treatment, according to the NIH. 

  3. Among survey respondents who reported misusing prescription or illicit opioids, 84% said they would feel comfortable going to their primary care provider for medication treatment. Among those who did not report misusing opioids, 74% reported they would be comfortable referring friends or family to a primary care provider for medication treatment. 

Read the full study here. 

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