Medication is the gold standard treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), but teens and older adults in the US don’t receive that treatment as often as other age groups according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

The researchers analyzed past-year medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) in individuals diagnosed with OUD who received some type of treatment. They relied on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a nationally representative cross-sectional household survey of people aged 12 and over. The study does not include people who are institutionalized or unhoused.

The researchers looked at de-identified data of people diagnosed with OUD in the previous year, those who received MOUD in the past year, and those who received some other type of OUD treatment.

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Out of the over 12 million people who may have needed treatment, only 27.8% received MOUD. Over half (57%) received no treatment, and 15.3% received some other type of treatment. No adolescents and 13.2% of adults aged 50 and over reported receiving MOUD in the past year. Race was another possible disparity as Whites received MOUD more often than Blacks or Hispanic individuals.

The researchers note that the self-reported nature of the survey may have caused an underestimation of drug use. Findings may not apply to people excluded from the survey, such as people in correctional institutions.

The results, however, are enlightening. “Despite strong evidence that medication is the most effective treatment for OUD…all adolescents and most adults with OUD treatment need in this study reported no past-year MOUD use,” the researchers stated. “An important first step in understanding correlates of MOUD use in the general US population, this nationally representative study revealed critical gaps in treatment engagement and MOUD use, suggesting that increased efforts to address barriers to evidence-based care are warranted.”


Mauro PM, Gutkind S, Annunziato EM, Samples H. Use of medication for opioid use disorder among us adolescents and adults with need for opioid treatment, 2019. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(3):e223821. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.3821