Patterns of buprenorphine/naloxone prescribing: an analysis of claims data from Massachusetts

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2020;46(2):216-223. doi: 10.1080/00952990.2019.1674863. Epub 2019 Dec 11.


Background: The brand name Suboxone and its generic formulation buprenorphine/naloxone is a medication for treating opioid use disorder. While this medication has been shown to be effective, little research has examined the extent to which it is being prescribed and under what circumstances.Objective: This study examined patterns of prescription claims for buprenorphine/naloxone in terms of volume and associated clinical conditions.Methods: The study was conducted using a statewide database comprising pharmacy and medical claims that were covered by commercial health insurance plans in Massachusetts between 2011 and 2015. Trends in prescription volume for buprenorphine/naloxone were assessed based on the annual number of patients with a prescription for buprenorphine/naloxone. To examine clinical conditions associated with buprenorphine/naloxone prescriptions, patients' pharmacy claims were linked to their medical claims within the prior three months. For patients with common pain-related conditions, the odds they were prescribed buprenorphine/naloxone rather than oxycodone, a widely used opioid for pain management, were also examined.Results: The number of patients with a buprenorphine/naloxone prescription increased substantially during the study period, from approximately 25,000 in 2011 to over 39,000 in 2015. The most common clinical condition associated with buprenorphine/naloxone prescribing was opioid use disorder, but a substantial percentage of prescriptions were preceded by diagnoses that included pain or were for pain alone.Conclusion: A substantial increase in the number of patients with a prescription for buprenorphine/naloxone was observed. While buprenorphine/naloxone is most frequently prescribed for opioid use disorder, clinicians also appear to prescribe it for pain, particularly for patients who may be at elevated risk for opioid use disorder.

Keywords: Opioids; Oxycodone; buprenorphine/naloxone.

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine, Naloxone Drug Combination / therapeutic use*
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance Claim Review / statistics & numerical data*
  • Insurance Claim Review / trends
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends


  • Buprenorphine, Naloxone Drug Combination