Only 1 in 4 people with opioid use disorder in U.S. receive medication, study finds

March 23 (UPI) -- Just over one in four people who may have needed prescription treatment for opioid use disorder, or addiction, received medication, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open found.

Among adolescents ages 12 to 17 years and adults who met the criteria for opioid use disorder, 28% received prescription medication for it, the data showed.


Despite their showing signs and symptoms of addiction, 57% received no treatment, while 15% received counseling without medication, the researchers said.

None of the adolescents ages 12 to 17 years included in the study received prescription medication for opioid use disorder, despite showing signs and symptoms, according to the researchers.

In addition, only 13% adults age 50 years and older received medication for the disorder, they said.

There are "critical gaps in treatment engagement and use of medication for opioid use disorder," study co-author Pia Mauro said in a press release.


"Increased efforts to address barriers to care are critically needed," said Mauro, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

Several drugs, including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, have received Food and Drug Administration approval for opioid use disorder treatment.

Since 2020, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act has mandated that Medicaid cover all three medications for opioid use disorder.

The disorder is defined as the chronic use of opioid-based drugs such as prescription pain relievers like oxycodone or fentanyl and "street" drugs like heroin that causes clinically significant distress or impairment, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

In 2020, nearly 100,000 people in the United States died after a drug overdose, with most cases involving opioids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

The findings of this analysis based on data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an ongoing tracking of trends on use, abuse and misuse across the United States led by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The researchers excluded people who were institutionalized or homeless and not in shelters, they said.

Nearly one-third of White people in need of opioid use disorder treatment received medication, compared with about 20% of Black or multiracial people and 15% of Hispanic people, the data showed.


In contrast, roughly similar proportions of each racial and ethnic group received non-medication services such as counseling, revealing significant disparities specifically for access to medication treatment among people of color, the researchers said.

Men and adults with at least some college education were more likely to be prescribed medication for opioid use disorder while those living in small metropolitan were less likely to receive treatment compared with those in large metropolitan areas, according to the researchers.

Although 85% of respondents said they had sought treatment and more than 60% said they had contact with the "criminal legal system" due to their opioid use disorder, fewer than 40% of them reported receiving medication for the condition, the data showed.

"Policies that expand Medicaid coverage for these medications is an important population-level strategy to potentially increase access to effective opioid use disorder treatment in the publicly insured population," study co-author Hillary Samples said in the press release.

"In any case, our findings provide further evidence that investments are needed to increase [medications for opioid use disorder] prescribing and referrals in ambulatory settings," said Samples, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey.

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