In the Journals

Opioid addiction treatment lacking for Medicaid enrollees in Southeast US

Medicaid enrollees in the Southeast U.S. exhibited the greatest disparities between county-level opioid use disorder rates and estimated capacity for opioid use disorder treatment, according to recent findings.

“In 2012, only Fulton County in Georgia had any opioid treatment programs that accepted Medicaid insurance,” Amanda J. Abraham, PhD, of University of Georgia, Athens, said in a press release. “Thus, there is no access to treatment for Medicaid enrollees in rural counties in Georgia, and similar disparities exist across the Southeast.”

Amanda Abraham
Amanda J. Abraham

To assess county-level geographic variation in treatment admissions among opioid treatment programs that accept Medicaid, researchers analyzed data from the 2012 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services.

Of the 1,151 opioid treatment programs included in the study, 744 (64.6%) accepted Medicaid.

Researchers found that most counties had no access to opioid use disorder treatment in opioid treatment programs for Medicaid enrollees, particularly in the Great Plains (Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming), and the Southeast (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee).

Highest rates of opioid use disorder treatment were in New England, southern California and counties surrounding Chicago and Detroit.

Similarly, analysis indicated clusters of high values for admissions to opioid treatment programs that accept Medicaid only in coastal New England. Much of central U.S., from Montana and Idaho to Texas and Georgia, was part of a cluster of low values for admissions to opioid treatment programs that accept Medicaid.

Researchers found several areas with high opioid use disorder rates and low treatment capacity among opioid treatment programs that accept Medicaid, most notably in the South, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

New England had the only clusters of high values for both opioid use disorder rates and treatment capacity among opioid treatment programs that accept Medicaid.

“We are hoping the study will encourage policymakers to consider the potential negative impact of removing addiction treatment from the essential health benefits in Medicaid expansion plans and reversing the parity requirement to cover addiction treatment services on par with medical and surgical benefits,” Abraham said in the release. “This decision will very likely worsen the opioid epidemic. We also hope states will consider strategies to improve availability of [opioid use disorder] treatment for Medicaid enrollees.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.