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Medications for Opioid Addiction Significantly Underutilized

Just 1 in 5 American adults with opioid use disorder (OUD) in 2021 received medication for the condition, a new study shows.

Using data from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), investigators found that of the 2.5 million adults with OUD in that year, 35.6% received some kind of substance abuse treatment, but only 22.3% received recommended medications for the condition, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or extended-release naltrexone.

“More than 80,000 people are dying of a drug overdose involving an opioid every year, while safe and effective medicines to treat opioid use disorder are sitting on the shelf unused,” senior author Wilson Compton, MD, MPE, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in a statement. “This study adds to the growing evidence that telehealth services are an important strategy that could help us bridge this gap, supporting the delivery of safe, effective, and lifesaving care for people with opioid use disorder.”

The findings were published online as a research letter August 7 in JAMA Network Open.

The study included 47,291 adults aged 18 years or older in the 2021 NSDUH, which provides nationally representative data of the US civilian, non-institutionalized population based on past-year OUD.

Men, people aged 35 years or older, urban residents, and non-Hispanic Whites were the most likely to receive medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD). MOUD use was also more common among those who received substance use treatment via telehealth, those with severe OUD, and people with annual incomes below $50,000.

Black people, women, unemployed individuals, those living in rural areas, and people with past-year cannabis use disorder were less likely to receive MOUD.

“It is not a matter of whether we should address health disparities and inequities that many racial/ethnic minority groups face when trying to access substance use treatment,” lead author Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, MPH, DrPH, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. “We must address these issues if we hope to reverse the trend of increasing drug overdose deaths.”

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Compton reported long-term stock holdings in General Electric Co, 3M Companies, and Pfizer Inc outside the submitted work.

JAMA Netw Open. Published online August 4, 2023. Research letter

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  • Posted on August 11, 2023