Study: More Medicaid Enrollees Receiving Medication For Opioid Use Disorder, But Disparities Exist

MM Curator summary


Prescription of medication for substance abuse disorder has increased at least 9% since 2014.


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Suboxone is an opioid-replacement drug that can reduce cravings and symptoms of withdrawal.

A new study, encompassing more than a million Medicaid recipients across 11 states including Maine, finds that those with opioid use disorder have increasing access to medications, such a naltrexone, methadone, or buprenorphine as part of their recovery plan.

“Which is reflecting prescribing patterns, maybe less stigma and more awareness that these medications can help persons with opioid use disorder from overdosing or having other adverse outcomes,” says Kate Ahrens with the Muskie School of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine. She was involved in coordinating data from the study.

Ahrens says in 2014, 48% of patients were prescribed a medication. By 2018, that number had increased to 57%. But there were disparities.

“We found that non-Hispanic, Black Medicaid enrollees were less likely to receive these medications than white enrollees- about 28%less likely,” Ahrens says.

Additionally, she says those receiving Medicaid due to a disability were less likely to be prescribed medication, as were teens, but older enrollees and pregnant women were more likely to receive medication-assisted treatment.

Ahrens says more work needs to be done to understand what’s fueling the trends.

“Looking at some of the racial disparities in treatment, looking at some of the specific policies among the states and their association with treatment patterns, so there’s a lot of future work,” Ahrens says.

A number of studies have shown that medications can significantly improve a person’s chances of staying in recovery for opioid use disorder, or OUD.

Additionally, Medicaid expansion among the 11 states was associated with more people getting into treatment for OUD.

The study is thought to be the largest of its kind, encompassing about 20% of all Medicaid enrollees across the country, and featuring a shared network of data across state lines, which Ahrens hopes will continue to grow.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, on Tuesday.


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