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Evaluation of the fentanyl patch-for-patch program in Ontario, Canada

Tadrous M, Greaves S, Martins D, Nadeem K, Singh S, Mamdani MM, Juurlink DN, Gomes T. Int J Drug Policy. 2019; 66:82-6. Epub 2019 Feb 8.

Background — Rising use of prescription opioids is a major public health concern associated with increased risk of mortality worldwide. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid available in patch form, is particularly concerning given its high potency. To curb the misuse and diversion of fentanyl patches, a Patch-for-Patch (P4P) program was implemented in some counties in Ontario between 2012 and 2015. The program requires that patients prescribed fentanyl must return used patches to the pharmacy before receiving more patches.

Objective — To evaluate the impact of the P4P program on fentanyl and non-fentanyl dispensing and opioid-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Methods — We conducted a repeated cross-sectional time-series analysis among counties that implemented the P4P program using Ontario administrative claims data. Because intervention dates varied by county due to staggered program initiation, we aligned all intervention months and examined outcome rates in the 5 years preceding and 12 and 24 months following implementation. We explored the monthly rate of prescriptions dispensed for fentanyl and non-fentanyl opioids, opioid toxicity-related hospital and emergency department visits, and opioid-related deaths. We modeled each outcome using an interventional autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) model and tested the impact of the P4P program using a ramp function.

Results — We analyzed 16 counties that implemented the P4P program and had at least 12 months of follow-up. The introduction of the P4P program was associated with a 30.5% decline in the volume of fentanyl patches dispensed at 24 months (from 1,277–888 patches per 10,000 population; p = 0.04). In contrast, there was no significant change in the rate of non-fentanyl opioid dispensing (p = 0.32), opioid toxicity related hospitalizations and emergency department visits (p = 0.4) or opioid-related deaths (p = 0.96) in the 12 months following implementation of the program.

Conclusions — We found that the implementation of a P4P program in select counties in Ontario was associated with a lower volume of fentanyl patches dispensed by pharmacies, without an increase in use of other opioids. The program had no measurable impact on rates of opioid toxicity-related hospital visits or deaths. Policymakers should consider the use of P4P programs as part of larger opioid strategy.