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Student-led research on “Availability of Buprenorphine-Naloxone in South Florida Outpatient Pharmacies” from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine won the American Society of Medicine’s Research Representation Award Addictions to their annual conference.

The winning abstract at the 53rd meeting originated with medical students Maria G. Rodríguez, BS, and Alina Syros, MPH, while serving as staff members at the IDEA Clinic, which is run by Miller School students with a focus on providing patient care to people who inject drugs.

From left: Maria G. Rodriguez, BS, Alina Syros, MPH, and David Serota, MD, at the American Society of Addiction Medicine Conference

“Through this experience, we learned that opioid use disorder (OUD) medications can reduce mortality among people with opioid use disorder (OUD), but patients continue to facing multi-level barriers to treatment,” Rodriguez said. “We have developed a passion for helping patients undergoing treatment for opioid use disorder and a desire to advocate for adequate access to buprenorphine, an essential medication for the treatment of OUD.”

Eliminating the stigma

Despite the positive aspects of MOUD, less than 40% of outpatient pharmacies in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties) have buprenorphine immediately available to patients. As a result, patients often find themselves trapped in a cycle of illicit opioid use, which can lead to overdose and injection-related infections.

In response to the “pill mills” of the early 2000s, Florida placed strong restrictions on the dispensing of opioids by outpatient pharmacies, which may have affected a pharmacy’s willingness to provide buprenorphine. A group of Miller School students, led by Rodriguez and Syros, conducted a telephone audit of local pharmacies to assess the availability of buprenorphine at South Florida pharmacies.

The study interviewed 200 randomly selected pharmacies in the three-county area, most of which were national chains rather than independent pharmacies. Overall, 62% of pharmacies reported not having buprenorphine currently available, and chain pharmacies had a higher rate of carrying buprenorphine compared to independent pharmacies.

“This study aims to raise awareness of the barriers this population faces,” Syros said. “Ultimately, our goal is to use our results to make meaningful changes at the pharmaceutical level and work to bridge these gaps in care.”

The Miller School will continue the study with follow-ups that delve into why pharmacies are unlikely to carry buprenorphine and other projects involving opioid use disorders in Miami and surrounding communities.

“Patients with opioid use disorder continue to face stigma within the healthcare community,” Rodriguez said. “Studies like this are needed to show what disparities exist and hopefully help our advocacy efforts to improve care for Floridians with opioid addiction.”

Source: Addiction treatment access research wins at American Society of Addiction Medicine conference – InventUM