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Characterizing safer supply prescribing of immediate release hydromorphone for individuals with opioid use disorder across Ontario, Canada

Young S, Koll G, McCormack D, Campbell T, Leece P, Strike C, Srivastava A, Antoniou T, Bayoumi AM, Gomes T. Int J Drug Policy. 2022; 102:103601. Epub 2022 Feb 3. DOI:

Background — In response to the ongoing overdose crisis, some clinicians in Canada have started prescribing immediate release hydromorphone (IRH) as an alternative to the toxic unregulated drug supply. This practice is often referred to as safer supply. We aimed to identify and characterize patients receiving safer supply IRH and their prescribers in Ontario.

Methods — Using provincial administrative health data, we identified individuals with opioid use disorder prescribed safer supply IRH from January 2016 to March 2020 and reported the number of initiations over time. We summarized demographic, health, and medication use characteristics among patients who received safer supply IRH, and examined select clinical outcomes including retention and death. Finally, we characterized prescribers of safer supply IRH and compared frequent and infrequent prescribers.

Results — We identified 534 initiations of safer supply IRH (447 distinct individuals) from 155 prescribers. Initiations increased over time with a peak in the third quarter of 2019 (103 initiations). Patients’ median age was 42 (interquartile range [IQR] 34–50), and most were male (60.2%), urban residents, (96.2%), and in the lowest neighborhood income quintile (55.7%), with 13.9% having overdosed in the previous one year. The prevalence of HIV was 13.9%. The median duration on IRH was 272 days (IQR 30–1,244) and OAT was co-prescribed in 62.9% of courses. Death while receiving IRH or within 7 days of discontinuation was rare (≤5 courses;≤0.94 per person-year for each).

Conclusions — Clinicians are increasingly prescribing safer supply IRH in Ontario. Patients prescribed safer supply IRH had demographic and clinical characteristics associated with high risk of death from opioid-related overdose. Short-term deaths among people receiving safer supply IRH were rare.