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Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the provision of take-home doses of opioid agonist therapy in Ontario, Canada: a population-based time-series analysis

Kitchen SA, Campbell TJ, Men S, Bozinoff N, Tadrous M, Antoniou T, Wyman J, Werb D, Munro C, Gomes T. Int J Drug Policy. 2022; 103:103644. Epub 2022 Mar 1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103644


Background — In March 2020, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency due to the growing risk of COVID-19. In response, new guidance for the management of opioid agonist therapy (OAT) was released, which included the expansion of eligibility for take-home doses. We investigated the impact of these changes on trends in the distribution of take-home doses of OAT.

Methods — We conducted a population-based time series analysis among residents of Ontario, Canada who were dispensed OAT between June 25, 2019 and November 30, 2020. For each week of the study period, we calculated the percentage of people dispensed (a) methadone and (b) buprenorphine/naloxone by the number of take-home doses received. We used interventional autoregressive integrated moving average models to estimate changes in the percentage of people dispensed each category of take-home doses in the weeks following the declaration of the state of emergency and release of the OAT dispensing guidance.

Results — Following the state of emergency and release of the OAT dispensing guidance, there was a significant increase in the percentage of Ontarians dispensed 7 to 13 (3.6% increase; p=0.033) and 14 or more (0.8% increase; p<0.001) take-home doses of methadone, and in the percentage of people dispensed 7 to 13 (4.3% increase; p=0.001), 14 to 27 (2.8% increase; p<0.001), and 28 or more (0.3% increase; p=0.008) take-home doses of buprenorphine/naloxone. There were significant decreases in the percentage of Ontarians receiving daily dispensed buprenorphine/naloxone (-3.1%; p=0.001), as well as the percentage dispensed 1 to 6 take-home doses of methadone (-4.5%; p=0.001) and buprenorphine/naloxone (-4.9%; p=0.001).

Conclusion — The new guidance for dispensing OAT in Ontario resulted in increases in the duration of take-home doses of methadone and buprenorphine/naloxone supplied. However, given that changes were small, strategies to improve retention in OAT and ensure equitable access to take-home dosing should continue.

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