Veterans with opioid use disorder have an increased risk of suicide and overdose compared with the general population. Buprenorphine, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved medication to treat opioid use disorder, has shown benefits, including decreased risk of illicit drug use and overdose. This study assesses the mortality outcomes with buprenorphine pharmacotherapy among Veterans up to 5 years from treatment initiation.
This was a retrospective cohort study of Veterans receiving buprenorphine (2008–2017) across any Veterans Health Administration facility. Buprenorphine pharmacotherapy was evaluated as a time-varying covariate. The primary outcome was death up to 5 years from treatment initiation by suicide and overdose combined; secondary outcomes included suicide, overdose, opioid-specific overdose, and all-cause death. Secondary analyses included evaluating the risk of mortality in recent discontinuation and effect modification by select characteristics. All analyses were conducted in 2020.
Veterans who were not receiving buprenorphine were 4.33 (adjusted hazard ratio; 95% CI=3.60, 5.21) times more likely to die by suicide/overdose than those receiving buprenorphine pharmacotherapy on any given day, with similar protective associations with treatment across secondary outcomes. The risk of suicide/overdose was highest 8–14 days from treatment discontinuation (adjusted hazard ratio=6.54, 95% CI=4.32, 9.91) than in currently receiving buprenorphine pharmacotherapy. There was no evidence of effect modification by the selected covariates.
Mortality risk was greater among Veterans who were not receiving buprenorphine pharmacotherapy than among those who were. Providers should consider whether buprenorphine pharmacotherapy, either intermittent or continuous, may provide health benefits for their patients and prevent mortality.