Engagement with Opioid Use Disorder Medication Improves Treatment Retention Among Youth

Multiple professional societies and government agencies recommend medication (e.g., buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone) for treating youth with opioid use disorder (OUD). Researchers examined the relationship between the receipt of timely treatment for OUD and retention in care among youth overall and compared adolescents (<18 years of age) and young adults (aged 18–22). Medicaid claims data for youth aged 13–22 were used to determine whether patients newly diagnosed with OUD received behavioral health services and/or medications within 3 months of the diagnosis.

  • 76% of newly diagnosed youth overall received some kind of OUD treatment; there were no differences between receipt in adolescents compared with young adults.
  • 89% of youth overall received behavioral health services either in combination with medication or alone.
  • Only 5% of adolescents received medication for OUD, compared with 27% of young adults.
  • Youth overall that received timely medication were retained in care longer than those who received behavioral treatment only (67 days for behavioral treatment only, compared with 123, 150, 324 days for buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone, respectively).

Comments: Despite evidence-based recommendations, only a minority of youth with OUD are prescribed MOUD, and younger adolescents are less likely to receive MOUD than young adults. This study confirms that receipt of medication matters. These findings should be a call to action to healthcare providers who care for this age group to provide these services.

Sharon Levy, MD

Reference: Hadland SE, Bagley SM, Rodean J, et al. Receipt of timely addiction treatment and association of early medication treatment with retention in care among youths with opioid use disorder. JAMA-Pediatr. 2018;172(11):1029–1037.

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