Drug utilization patterns before and during COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba, Canada: A population-based study

PLoS One. 2022 Nov 28;17(11):e0278072. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0278072. eCollection 2022.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has led the Canadian provincial governments to take unprecedented measures, including restrictions to healthcare services and pharmacists. Limited evidence exists on changes in prescription trends in Canada during the pandemic period.

Objectives: To examine the trend of prescription medications' utilization before and during COVID-19, among incident and prevalent users in the general population. We examined 18 major classes of medications.

Methods: We used the administrative health databases from the province of Manitoba, Canada, to conduct a province-wide cross-sectional study. Incident and prevalent use was compared between two time periods; pre-COVID-19: July 2016-March 2020 and during COVID-19: April 2020-March 2021. Interrupted time series analysis using autoregressive models was used to quantify the change in level and slope in quarterly medication use among incident and prevalent users.

Results: The quarterly study population ranged from 1,353,485 to 1,411,630 Manitobans. The most common comorbidities were asthma (26.67%), hypertension (20.64%), and diabetes (8.31%). On average, the pandemic restrictions resulted in a 45.55% and 12.17% relative decline in the aggregated utilization of all drugs among both incident and prevalent users, respectively. Subclass analysis showed a 46.83%, 23.05%, and 30.98% relative drop among incident users of antibiotics, cardiovascular drugs and opioids use, respectively. We observed a significant slope increase during COVID-19 among the quarterly cardiovascular, antidiabetics, alpha-1 blockers, and statins incident users compared to the pre-COVID-19 period. We noted a significant decrease in level among NSAIDs, opioids, and antibiotic prevalent users, however, no significant changes in slope were observed.

Conclusion: Our findings show a significant impact of COVID-19 measures on prescription trends in the general population. The observed decline among several medication classes was temporary. Further research is needed to monitor prescription trends and better understand if those changes were associated with increased health services and worsened outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Canada
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization
  • Humans
  • Manitoba / epidemiology
  • Pandemics


  • Analgesics, Opioid

Grant support

This work was supported by a research grant (#4443) from Research Manitoba. The authors have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.