Intensification to Triple Therapy After Treatment With Nonbiologic Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis in the United States From 2009 to 2014

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Several trials suggest that triple therapy (methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine) and biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have similar efficacy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This study was undertaken to investigate intensification to triple therapy after initial nonbiologic prescription among patients with RA.


The use of triple therapy among patients with RA in 2009–2014 was evaluated using US insurance claims data. Patients with a health care visit for RA and an initial nonbiologic DMARD prescription were included. Frequencies of intensification to triple therapy or a biologic DMARD and rates of intensification per 6-month time period were calculated. Using Cox regression, we evaluated whether sociodemographic, temporal, geographic, clinical, and health care utilization factors were associated with intensification to triple therapy. Among those patients whose therapy was intensified, we investigated factors associated with triple therapy use by logistic regression. Hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) for intensification to triple therapy in relation to various clinical and demographic factors were calculated.


There were 24,576 patients with a mean ± SD age of 50.3 ± 12.3 years, and 78% were female. During the study period, treatment was intensified to biologic DMARDs in 2,739 patients (11.1%) compared to 181 patients (0.7%) whose treatment was intensified to triple therapy. There was no significant change in triple therapy use across calendar years. Patients whose treatment was intensified to triple therapy were more likely to receive glucocorticoids (HR 1.91 [95% CI 1.41–2.60]) compared to patients who did not use glucocorticoids and were more likely to use nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (HR 1.48, 95% CI 1.10–1.99 versus no NSAID use). Among those patients whose treatment was intensified to triple therapy or biologic DMARDs, factors significantly associated with triple therapy use included older age, US region (with the highest odds for triple therapy use in the West and lowest odds for triple therapy use in the Northeast), glucocorticoid use, and lower number of outpatient visits within 180 days of initial nonbiologic DMARD prescription.


Despite reports published during the study period suggesting equivalent efficacy of triple therapy and biologic DMARDs for RA, the use of triple therapy was infrequent and did not increase over time in this large nationwide study.

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