Opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose rates are at epidemic levels in the US. As a result, there is an urgent need to expand access to evidence-based treatment, including methadone. However, access to methadone for treatment of OUD is limited to licensed programs in the US, and these are not evenly distributed. Researchers used data on distribution of methadone programs and 2019 opioid overdose deaths in the state of Georgia to analyze access to programs in the 5 counties with the highest overdose rates, and to see if Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) could help close the gap. Access was assessed by calculating the percentage of the population in each county that lived within a 15-minute drive of a methadone program or FQHC.
- In 2019, the mean opioid overdose death rate per 100,000 people in the state of Georgia was 8; for the 5 counties with the highest rates, it ranged from 32 to 38.
- In the state of Georgia overall, 62% of the population live within a 15-minute drive of a methadone program. In the 4 counties with the highest overdose death rates, 0% lived within a 15-minute drive and in the fifth highest, it was only 5%.
- In the 5 counties with the highest overdose death rates, 67 to 97% of the population lived within a 15-minute drive of a FQHC.
Comments: This study shows that access to life-saving treatment is very limited in some of the locales that need it most. Expanding access to methadone through FQHCs and pharmacies can help bridge this gap.
Darius A. Rastegar, MD
Reference: Anwar T, Duever M, Jayawardhana J. Access to methadone clinics and opioid overdose deaths in Georgia: a geospatial analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022;238:109565.