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Buprenorphine helps to lower the cost of the opioid crisis

February 13, 2018
by Alicia Hoisington
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Buprenorphine is proving to be a safe and effective way to detoxify people who are dependent on opioids, and a new study shows that patients who use it are more adherent to their treatment plans. Thus, researchers propose, buprenorphine is helping to lower the societal burden of the opioid epidemic.

The study, “Clinical and Cost Outcomes of Buprenorphine Treatment in a Commercial Benefit Plan Population,” analyzed claims data from 648 Cigna members to assess differences before and after treatment among groups. The groups included: buprenorphine with induction, buprenorphine without induction and no buprenorphine. Induction was defined as up to three outpatient visits with the prescriber with the goal of finding the ideal daily dose of buprenorphine.

Results show that patients treated with buprenorphine through induction and maintenance treatment required fewer inpatient hospitalizations after starting treatment, with an 82% reduction in inpatient hospital stays.

 “We also observed that none of the customers treated by induction and maintenance with buprenorphine required further detoxification treatment during the four months period post-treatment,” says Doug Nemecek, MD, chief medical officer for Cigna’s behavioral health business and an author of the study.

Researchers also observed increased outpatient behavioral health visits and increased prescriptions being filled when the patients were treated with buprenorphine, which Nemecek says is a positive outcome and one that helps to lower the societal burden of the opioid epidemic.

 “Finally, the total costs of care for these customers, when looking at behavioral health, pharmacy and medical spend, was significantly decreased for the customers treated with buprenorphine compared to customers who did not receive buprenorphine,” he says. “When treated with buprenorphine, total medical costs decreased by 50% after the customers began treatment.”

Another step forward

Nemecek says it’s important for patients to have access to evidence-based treatment alternatives, such as buprenorphine.

 “Multiple scientific studies have shown that buprenorphine improves the clinical outcomes for treatment of opioid-use disorders,” he says. “Our study now also demonstrates that in the general practice in the community, treatment with buprenorphine improves the clinical outcomes, and also lowers the total medical costs for people with opioid-use disorders.”

He says it’s equally important to treat opioid-use disorder as the chronic illness that it is, and successful treatment starts by changing the conversation to decrease the associated stigma and encourage more people to seek much-needed treatment.

“We must educate our customers and patients about the benefits of medication-assisted treatment so that more will seek it out and ultimately so more providers begin to offer medication-assisted treatment for their patients with opioid-use disorders,” he says.


The National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state, and federal agencies, business, academia, clinicians, treatment providers, counselors, educators, state and national leaders, and advocates impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use.

April 2-5, 2018 | Atlanta, GA