Barriers to accessing opioid agonist therapy in pregnancy

Bronwyn S. Bedrick, Carly O'Donnell, Christine M. Marx, Hayley Friedman, Ebony B. Carter, Molly Stout, Jeannie C. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The incidence of opioid use disorder during pregnancy has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades. Despite the safety and efficacy of treatment for opioid use during pregnancy, pregnant women often cannot access treatment. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to determine the availability of opioid agonist therapy to pregnant women in Missouri and Illinois and to compare different markers of treatment accessibility between opioid treatment programs and buprenorphine providers and between rural and urban practices. STUDY DESIGN: Buprenorphine providers and opioid treatment programs in Missouri and Illinois were identified using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. A phone audit was conducted to evaluate barriers to care, including whether clinics accepted new patients, pregnant patients, and insurance, and the time to the first appointment and appointment cost. Rural-urban commuting area codes and practice ZIP codes were used to determine whether practice location was rural or urban. Provider specialty was determined from state licensing databases. RESULTS: There were 1363 buprenorphine providers and 98 opioid treatment programs listed. Clinics were clustered around metropolitan areas, and only 13% of buprenorphine providers (183 of 1363) and 5% of opioid treatment programs (5 of 98) were in rural areas. Despite 3 contact attempts for each clinic, we were unable to reach 42% of buprenorphine providers (401 of 965) and 14% of opioid treatment programs (14 of 98). Of those reached, 40% of buprenorphine providers (223 of 564) and 80% of opioid treatment programs (67 of 84) were accepting new pregnant patients (P=.01). Buprenorphine providers required more contact attempts (>2 attempts in 34% vs 15%; P<.0001) and had longer wait times for the first appointment (>7 days in 27% vs 4%; P=.002) than opioid treatment programs. Buprenorphine providers in urban areas required more attempts to reach (>2 attempts in 36% vs 24%; P=.03) and were less likely to accept Medicaid than those in rural areas (52% vs 74%; P=.008). More than 23% of buprenorphine provider listings (238 of 1038) contained incorrect information, whereas no opioid treatment program listing had incorrect information. Most buprenorphine providers were in primary care or psychiatry, whereas <5% of buprenorphine providers (43 of 1363) were obstetrician-gynecologists. CONCLUSION: This is the first phone audit to evaluate access to opioid agonist therapy for pregnant women. Only a minority of buprenorphine providers offered care for this patient population, and a large proportion required multiple contact attempts and wait times of >7 days. Opioid treatment programs were more responsive and accepting of new pregnant patients but comprised a minority of clinics and were predominately located in urban areas. There is an urgent need for improved reliability of contact information for opioid agonist providers, timely intake and acceptance for treatment of pregnant patients, and overall improved access to clinics that are challenged by geographic and insurance status barriers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100225
Number of pages1
JournalAmerican journal of obstetrics & gynecology MFM
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • buprenorphine
  • disparities
  • insurance
  • Medicaid
  • methadone
  • opioid treatment program
  • opioid use disorder
  • phone audit
  • rural health


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