Medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) including buprenorphine products are evidence-based and cost-effective tools for combating the opioid crisis. However, limited availability to buprenorphine is pervasive in the United States (US) and may serve to exacerbate the deadly epidemic. Although prior research points to rural counties as especially needy of strategies that improve buprenorphine availability, it is important to investigate the availability of waivered providers according to treatment need as defined by the county-level rate of opioid-overdose deaths (OOD). This study examined differences in buprenorphine provider availability relative to treatment need among rural and urban counties in the US.
Buprenorphine provider availability relative to need in each county was defined as the number of waivered providers divided by the rate of OODs (i.e., number of OODs/100,000 population), according to 2018 data. Counties with ratios in the bottom tertile of their state were classified as buprenorphine undersupplied. We estimated logit models to statistically test the association of rurality and state main effects and their interaction terms (independent variables) and the county classified as buprenorphine undersupplied (dependent variable).
A total of 38 states and 2595 counties had sufficient non-suppressed data to remain in the analysis. A larger percent of urban counties (36.43%) than rural counties (32.01%) were classified as buprenorphine undersupplied (p = 0.001). The likelihood of a rural county being undersupplied varied considerably by state (Chi Square = 82.88, p = 0.000). All states with significant (p < 0.05 or p < 0.10) interaction terms showed lower likelihood of buprenorphine undersupply in rural counties.
The rural–urban distribution in undersupply of waivered buprenorphine providers relative to need varied markedly by state. Strategies for improving access to buprenorphine-waivered providers should be state-centric and informed by county-specific indicators of need.
Rural and urban differences in undersupply of buprenorphine provider availability in the United States, 2018