Background: In 2017, the United States Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) expanded authorization to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder to nurse practitioners (NPs). In contrast to physicians, NPs were required to complete 16 additional hours of training on controlled substance prescribing before a buprenorphine waiver application. As this differential additional education mandate was seen as a potential barrier, we sought to evaluate the impact of this requirement on both waiver acquisition and prescribing of controlled substances, comparing NPs who obtained waivers to those who had not.
Methods: Through 2016-2018 Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and linked NP licensure data, we identify factors associated with waiver acquisition at baseline (2016), and evaluated changes in controlled substance prescribing before (2016) and after waiver acquisition (2018). Using chi-square and Mann-Whitny U testing, we calculated and described controlled substance prescribing types, rates, and patient level quantities including co-prescribing of benzodiazepines and opioids by NPs. Multivariable linear regression compared prescribing by waivered and non-waivered NPs for significant changes in non-buprenorphine controlled substance prescribing.
Results: Waivered NPs were more likely to have a psychiatric certification, have prior disciplinary action, and have generally higher levels of non-buprenorphine controlled substance prescribing than their non-waivered counterparts.. While there was a significant increase in opioid prescriptions per patient among waivered NPs, following CARA implementation, co-prescribing of benzodiazepines and opioids significantly declined among waivered NPs relative to non-waivered NPs
Conclusions: Although educational requirements were rescinded in 2021 for most applicants, enhanced opioid prescribing training should be incorporated into professional educational offerings regardless of regulatory mandate. We recommended continued focus on education regarding avoidance of high risk prescribing such as co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines. NPs who acquire waivers may take on higher risk patients who are already using opioids and these findings may represent transitions in practice and patient setting.