Stigma and high-care needs can present barriers to the provision of high-quality primary care for people with opioid use disorder (OUD) and those prescribed opioids for chronic pain. We explored the likelihood of securing a new primary care provider (PCP) among people with varying histories of opioid use who had recently lost access to their PCP.
We conducted a retrospective cohort study using linked administrative data among residents of Ontario, Canada whose enrolment with a physician practicing in a primary care enrolment model (PEM) was terminated between January 2016 and December 2017. We assigned individuals to 3 groups based upon their opioid use on the date enrolment ended: long-term opioid pain therapy (OPT), opioid agonist therapy (OAT), or no opioid. We fit multivariable models assessing the primary outcome of primary care reattachment within 1 year, adjusting for demographic characteristics, clinical comorbidities, and health services utilization. Secondary outcomes included rates of emergency department (ED) visits and opioid toxicity events.
Among 154,970 Ontarians who lost their PCP, 1,727 (1.1%) were OAT recipients, 3,644 (2.4%) were receiving long-term OPT, and 149,599 (96.5%) had no recent prescription opioid exposure. In general, OAT recipients were younger (median age 36) than those receiving long-term OPT (59 years) and those with no recent prescription opioid exposure (44 years). In all exposure groups, the majority of individuals had their enrolment terminated by their physician (range 78.1% to 88.8%). In the primary analysis, as compared to those not receiving opioids, OAT recipients were significantly less likely to find a PCP within 1 year (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 0.55, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.50 to 0.61, p < 0.0001). We observed no significant difference between long-term OPT and opioid unexposed individuals (aHR 0.96; 95% CI 0.92 to 1.01, p = 0.12). In our secondary analysis comparing the period of PCP loss to the year prior, we found that rates of ED visits were elevated among people not receiving opioids (adjusted rate ratio (aRR) 1.20, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.22, p < 0.0001) and people receiving long-term OPT (aRR 1.37, 95% CI 1.28 to 1.48, p < 0.0001). We found no such increase among OAT recipients, and no significant increase in opioid toxicity events in the period following provider loss for any exposure group. The main limitation of our findings relates to their generalizability outside of PEMs and in jurisdictions with different financial incentives incorporated into primary care provision.
In this study, we observed gaps in access to primary care among people who receive prescription opioids, particularly among OAT recipients. Ongoing efforts are needed to address the stigma, discrimination, and financial disincentives that may introduce barriers to the healthcare system, and to facilitate access to high-quality, consistent primary care services for chronic pain patients and those with OUD.