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Study Gauges Awareness of Addiction Treatment

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Most Americans don’t know their doctor can prescribe medications for opioid use disorder.

A recent national survey of more than 1,200 Americans reveals a disconnect between primary care physicians’ ability to prescribe medications for opioid use disorder and public awareness and demand.

These perceptions are significant considering the efforts that have been made to lower the barriers to treatment of opioid use disorder, says lead study author Brandon del Pozo, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine (research) and of health services, policy, and practice. The analysis of the survey was published in JAMA Network Open.

“We’ve made great strides in making it easier for primary care doctors to prescribe these safe and effective treatments, but our study indicates a critical disconnect between the need for medications for opioid use disorder and people’s knowledge about how to access them,” del Pozo says.

Decades of research have shown the effectiveness of medications such as buprenorphine and methadone for opioid use disorder. Federal policy changes such as the elimination of specialized training requirements and patient caps have made it simpler for primary care physicians to prescribe medication for opioid use disorder. Yet a recent study found that, in the year after the elimination of a waiver requirement to prescribe buprenorphine, the number of prescribers increased while the number of people receiving the medication did not.

Del Pozo and other Brown University researchers hypothesized that public health factors may impede access to these medications. They formulated survey questions related to people’s awareness of and comfort around opioid use disorder treatment in primary care. In collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the researchers added these questions to a survey conducted in English and Spanish by the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network, led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and supported through the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative. JCOIN researchers administered the survey in June 2023, targeting a nationally representative sample of adults.

Of the 1,234 survey respondents, 61 percent were unaware that primary care physicians can prescribe medication for opioid use disorder, and 13 percent incorrectly believed that they could not.

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