Scott E. Hadland, MD, MPH, MS1,2,3,4J. Frank Wharam, MB, BCh, BAO, MPH5,6Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD4,7et al

Key Points

Question  How often do youth with opioid use disorder receive buprenorphine or naltrexone, and how has this changed over time?

Findings  In this large, national retrospective cohort of 20 822 youth aged 13 to 25 years with opioid use disorder, medication receipt increased from 2001 to 2014, but only 1 in 4 individuals received buprenorphine or naltrexone. Younger individuals, females, and black and Hispanic youth were less likely to receive a medication.

Meaning  Amidst emerging recommendations calling for expanded access to pharmacotherapy for youth with opioid use disorder, medications may have been historically underutilized and disparities may exist by age, sex, and race/ethnicity.


Importance  Opioid use disorder (OUD) frequently begins in adolescence and young adulthood. Intervening early with pharmacotherapy is recommended by major professional organizations. No prior national studies have examined the extent to which adolescents and young adults (collectively termed youth) with OUD receive pharmacotherapy.

Objective  To identify time trends and disparities in receipt of buprenorphine and naltrexone among youth with OUD in the United States.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A retrospective cohort study was conducted using deidentified data from a national commercial insurance database. Enrollment and complete health insurance claims of 9.7 million youth, aged 13 to 25 years were analyzed, identifying individuals who received a diagnosis of OUD between January 1, 2001, and June 30, 2014, with final follow-up date December 31, 2014. Analysis was conducted from April 25 to December 31, 2016. Time trends were identified and multivariable logistic regression was used to determine sociodemographic factors associated with medication receipt.

Exposures  Sex, age, race/ethnicity, neighborhood education and poverty levels, geographic region, census region, and year of diagnosis.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Dispensing of a medication (buprenorphine or naltrexone) within 6 months of first receiving an OUD diagnosis.

Results  Among 20 822 youth diagnosed with OUD (0.2% of the 9.7 million sample), 13 698 (65.8%) were male and 17 119 (82.2%) were non-Hispanic white. Mean (SD) age was 21.0 (2.5) years at the first observed diagnosis. The diagnosis rate of OUD increased nearly 6-fold from 2001 to 2014 (from 0.26 per 100 000 person-years to 1.51 per 100 000 person-years). Overall, 5580 (26.8%) youth were dispensed a medication within 6 months of diagnosis, with 4976 (89.2%) of medication-treated youth receiving buprenorphine and 604 (10.8%) receiving naltrexone. Medication receipt increased more than 10-fold, from 3.0% in 2002 (when buprenorphine was introduced) to 31.8% in 2009, but declined in subsequent years (27.5% in 2014). In multivariable analyses, younger individuals were less likely to receive medications, with adjusted probability for age 13 to 15 years, 1.4% (95% CI, 0.4%-2.3%); 16 to 17 years, 9.7% (95% CI, 8.4%-11.1%); 18 to 20 years, 22.0% (95% CI, 21.0%-23.0%); and 21 to 25 years, 30.5% (95% CI, 30.0%-31.5%) (P < .001 for difference). Females (7124 [20.3%]) were less likely than males (13 698 [24.4%]) to receive medications (P < .001), as were non-Hispanic black (105 [14.8%]) and Hispanic (1165 [20.0%]) youth compared with non-Hispanic white (17 119 [23.1%]) youth (P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance  In this first national study of buprenorphine and naltrexone receipt among youth, dispensing increased over time. Nonetheless, only 1 in 4 commercially insured youth with OUD received pharmacotherapy, and disparities based on sex, age, and race/ethnicity were observed.


It’s been obvious to me for many years that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), while highly effective is also very under-utilized.  Perhaps this is due to the stigma attached to it.  Whatever the cause, we need to figure it out, address & resolve it.  To many people are dying of this disease.  Young people universally think they are bullet-proof (they’re not!).



Dr. Raymond Oenbrink
Latest posts by Dr. Raymond Oenbrink (see all)