Most people with opioid use disorder don’t have access to critical medications

·2 min read

Story at a glance

  • A new study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy examined the prevalence of opioid use disorder and the use of medications — like buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone—to treat it between 2010 and 2019.

  • Researchers found that 86.6 percent of people are not getting the treatment they need.

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.

Nearly 90 percent of people in the U.S. living with opioid use disorder (OUD) are not receiving potentially lifesaving medications.

A new study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy examined the prevalence of OUD and the use of medications – like buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone—to treat it between 2010 and 2019. Researchers found that 86.6 percent of people are not getting the treatment they need.

“Our findings highlight the urgency of removing barriers to accessing medications to treat opioid use disorder, while expanding the availability of these medications,” the study’s lead author Noa Krawczyk said in a media release.

“But what we have is way beyond a simple treatment capacity problem. We need to rethink how treatment for opioid use disorder is delivered, eliminate stigma, make it easier for people to enter and remain in treatment, as well as ensure that all treatment programs provide and encourage use of evidence-based medications that we know save lives,” Krawczyk said.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from a public database that tracks prescriptions from licensed clinics and a private database with outpatient pharmacy claims tracking prescriptions filled for buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone. They then calculated the change over the year 2018 to 2019 and from 2010 to 2019.

The largest treatment gaps as of 2019 were found in Iowa, North Dakota and Washington, D.C. — each at more than 95 percent. The smallest gaps were in Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island.

“Even in states with the smallest treatment gaps, at least 50 percent of people who could benefit from medications for opioid use disorder are still not receiving them,” the study’s senior author Magdalena Cerdá said.

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A record number of Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021 with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing an estimated 107,622 deaths. Overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.

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