Effectiveness of Different Treatment Pathways for Opioid Use Disorder

"Our results demonstrate the importance of treatment retention with MOUD [Medication for Opioid Use Disorder]. Individuals who received methadone or buprenorphine for longer than 6 months experienced fewer overdose events and serious opioid-related acute care use compared with those who received shorter durations of treatment or no treatment. These findings are consistent with prior research11,15,27-29 demonstrating high rates of recurrent opioid use if MOUD treatment is discontinued prematurely. Despite the benefit of MOUD in our study, treatment duration was relatively short. Given the chronic nature of OUD and the evidence that longer treatment duration may be associated with improved outcomes, patient-centered MOUD treatment models explicitly focused on engagement and retention are needed. Low-threshold treatment, which aims to reduce barriers to entry and is tailored to the needs of high-risk populations,30 may be a strategy to improve retention; however, to our knowledge, no rigorous studies have evaluated these models to date.31,32 In addition, patient-centered MOUD care, which allows participants to determine the services they need rather than requirements, such as mandatory counseling, are noninferior to traditional treatment.32

"Numerous barriers limit sustained engagement in MOUD, including a lack of access to waivered practitioners, high co-payments, prior authorization requirements, and other restrictions on use. Previous studies33,34 have demonstrated that restrictions on use for MOUD are associated with limited access and harm. Addiction treatment programs in states that require Medicaid prior authorizations for buprenorphine are less likely to offer buprenorphine, and the more restrictions on use in state Medicaid programs, the fewer treatment programs that offer buprenorphine.33 Requiring prior authorization for higher doses of buprenorphine may also result in increased recurrence rates among patients.34 Our finding that MOUD treatment with buprenorphine or methadone was associated with lower overdose and serious opioid-related acute care use supports expanded coverage of these medications without restrictions on use.

"Our findings are also consistent with analyses showing that MOUD treatment with buprenorphine or methadone is significantly associated with reduced overdose and recurrence of opioid use compared with no treatment or non-MOUD treatment. A previous cohort study15 of individuals in Massachusetts demonstrated a reduction in overdose-related mortality associated with treatment with buprenorphine (AHR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.41-0.92) or methadone (AHR, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.24-0.70), results that are similar to our finding of an AHR of 0.41 (95% CI, 0.31-0.55) for overdose at 12 months for methadone or buprenorphine. A large meta-analysis11 examining mortality when individuals were in or out of treatment with buprenorphine or methadone similarly showed decreased overdose mortality during treatment. A study12 examining proxies for recurrent OUD among Massachusetts Medicaid enrollees found that treatment with buprenorphine or methadone was associated with lower recurrence rates and costs. No studies, to our knowledge, have examined the effect of different OUD treatment pathways on overdose and serious opioid-related acute care use among a national sample of commercially insured and MA enrollees."


Wakeman SE, Larochelle MR, Ameli O, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Different Treatment Pathways for Opioid Use Disorder. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(2):e1920622. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.20622