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Original Investigation
November 2018

Receipt of Timely Addiction Treatment and Association of Early Medication Treatment With Retention in Care Among Youths With Opioid Use Disorder

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of General Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Grayken Center for Addiction, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4Section of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 5Children’s Hospital Association, Lenexa, Kansas
  • 6Adolescent Substance Use and Addictions Program, Division of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 7Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), Los Angeles
JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(11):1029-1037. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2143
Key Points

Question  What percentage of youths receive medications for opioid use disorder shortly after diagnosis, and are those who receive medications early after diagnosis more likely to remain in care compared with those who receive behavioral treatment only?

Findings  In this multistate cohort of 4837 youths with opioid use disorder, 1 of 21 adolescents younger than 18 years and 1 of 4 young adults aged 18 to 22 years received medication for opioid use disorder within 3 months of diagnosis. Youths who received buprenorphine were 42% less likely to discontinue treatment, those who received naltrexone were 46% less likely to discontinue treatment, and those who received methadone were 68% less likely to discontinue treatment compared with youths who received behavioral treatment only.

Meaning  Pharmacotherapy, a critical evidence-based intervention to address opioid use disorder, may be underused in youths with this disorder; those who receive medications shortly after diagnosis may be more likely to remain in care than youths who receive behavioral health services only.


Importance  Retention in addiction treatment is associated with reduced mortality for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD). Although clinical trials support use of OUD medications among youths (adolescents and young adults), data on timely receipt of buprenorphine hydrochloride, naltrexone hydrochloride, and methadone hydrochloride and its association with retention in care in real-world treatment settings are lacking.

Objectives  To identify the proportion of youths who received treatment for addiction after diagnosis and to determine whether timely receipt of OUD medications is associated with retention in care.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This retrospective cohort study used enrollment data and complete health insurance claims of 2.4 million youths aged 13 to 22 years from 11 states enrolled in Medicaid from January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2015. Data analysis was performed from August 1, 2017, to March 15, 2018.

Exposures  Receipt of OUD medication (buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone) within 3 months of diagnosis of OUD compared with receipt of behavioral health services alone.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Retention in care, with attrition defined as 60 days or more without any treatment-related claims.

Results  Among 4837 youths diagnosed with OUD, 2752 (56.9%) were female and 3677 (76.0%) were non-Hispanic white. Median age was 20 years (interquartile range [IQR], 19-21 years). Overall, 3654 youths (75.5%) received any treatment within 3 months of diagnosis of OUD. Most youths received only behavioral health services (2515 [52.0%]), with fewer receiving OUD medications (1139 [23.5%]). Only 34 of 728 adolescents younger than 18 years (4.7%; 95% CI, 3.1%-6.2%) and 1105 of 4109 young adults age 18 years or older (26.9%; 95% CI, 25.5%-28.2%) received timely OUD medications. Median retention in care among youths who received timely buprenorphine was 123 days (IQR, 33-434 days); naltrexone, 150 days (IQR, 50-670 days); and methadone, 324 days (IQR, 115-670 days) compared with 67 days (IQR, 14-206 days) among youths who received only behavioral health services. Timely receipt of buprenorphine (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.52-0.64), naltrexone (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.43-0.69), and methadone (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.22-0.47) were each independently associated with lower attrition from treatment compared with receipt of behavioral health services alone.

Conclusions and Relevance  Timely receipt of buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone was associated with greater retention in care among youths with OUD compared with behavioral treatment only. Strategies to address the underuse of evidence-based medications for youths with OUD are urgently needed.