Bicycle Health announced a partnership with Albertsons Companies to make prescriptions of buprenorphine injections available to patients.
The buprenorphine extended-release injections, known as Sublocade, will be available across 17 states with the goal of expanding to more. The collaboration hopes to increase access to vital medications for opioid use disorder, which can be hard to come by.
“It’s not just a challenge in rural areas, it’s a challenge pretty much nationwide,” Bicycle Health founder and CEO Ankit Gupta told Fierce Healthcare.
Bicycle, a virtual opioid use disorder treatment provider, can now prescribe Sublocade for fulfillment and administration by an on-site pharmacist at Albertsons, including Safeway and Acme supermarket pharmacies. The partners have built joint workflows to be able to share data and coordinate care, with consent from patients.
No other major pharmacy chains, as far as he knows, administer Sublocade, Gupta said.
“We are excited to offer Bicycle Health patients access to recovery care solutions in our pharmacies,” Erin Shaal, vice president of pharmacy procurement, specialty and patient care at Albertsons Companies, said in a press release. “Offering recovery injectables at our pharmacies fill a need in our communities where patients are seeking alternative treatment options to manage opioid use disorder in a stigma-free environment.”
Two formulations of buprenorphine are approved by the Food & Drug Administration for opioid use disorder: oral tablets and injections. For a long time, Bicycle only prescribed the former, because it could not reliably refer its patients to in-person providers that would administer the injectable form, Gupta said.
“The logistics of this is quite challenging and the scale is just not there,” Gupta said, “because the access to local providers as we know…is already quite low.”
Some patients who need buprenorphine are better suited for injections than the oral formulation known as Suboxone, per Gupta. For instance, Sublocade is a monthly injection, versus oral tablets, which are daily. Some patients prefer this approach or the option to not keep tablets in their home. For others, where there is a heightened risk of medication nonadherence or drug diversion, Sublocade is also better.
Though medications for opioid use disorder, such as Sublocade, are widely seen as the gold standard for treatment, access barriers plague the U.S. Only a small portion of providers have a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and evidence suggests most are either not prescribing it at all or not treating up to their potential patient capacity.
On top of that, Sublocade is not available in retail pharmacies, according to the manufacturer’s website, and a Sublocade injection must be given by a certified healthcare provider with specific training and a waiver to dispense the medication.
“In 2021, 81% of overdose deaths involved an opioid in the U.S., and the problem is getting worse by the day,” Brian Clear, M.D., chief medical officer at Bicycle, said in the press release. “We had not made a dent in this problem until the pandemic removed restrictions on telemedicine, at which point, telemedicine access to medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) quickly became associated with reductions in fatal drug overdose, improved retention in MOUD treatment, improvements in treatment adherence for veterans and seniors and industry-leading improvements in MOUD retention and no-show rates.”