The Affordable Care Act in The Heart of the Opioid Crisis

Evidence from West Virginia

Published in: Health Affairs, Volume 38, No. 4 (April 2019). doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05049

by Brendan Saloner, Rachel Landis, Bradley D. Stein, Colleen L. Barry

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West Virginia is at the epicenter of a national opioid crisis, with a 2016 fatal opioid overdose rate of 43.4 per 100,000 population-more than triple the US average. We used claims data for 2014–16 to examine trends in treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) among people enrolled in the West Virginia Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act. Expanding Medicaid could provide services to populations that may previously have had limited access to OUD treatment. We thus sought to understand trends over time in OUD diagnosis and treatment, especially with medications. About 5.5 percent of all enrollees were diagnosed with OUD per year, and the monthly prevalence of OUD diagnoses nearly tripled during this three-year period. The ratio of people filling buprenorphine to the number diagnosed with OUD was around one-third in early 2014, increasing to more than 75 percent by late 2016. Mean annual duration of filled buprenorphine increased from 161 days in 2014 to 185 days in 2016, and most people filling buprenorphine also received counseling and drug testing during the study period. The growing use of medication treatment for OUD in the West Virginia Medicaid expansion population provides an opportunity to reduce overdose deaths.

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