Trends in Visits to Substance Use Disorder Treatment Facilities in 2020

Published in: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Volume 127 (August 2021). doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108462

Posted on RAND.org on October 22, 2021

by Jonathan Cantor, David Kravitz, Mark J. Sorbero, Barbara Andraka-Christou, Christopher M. Whaley, Kathryn E. Bouskill, Bradley D. Stein

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Objective

To describe weekly changes in the number of substance use disorder treatment (SUDT) facility visits in 2020 compared to 2019 using cell phone location data.

Methods

We calculated the percentage weekly change in visits to SUDT facilities from the week of January 5 through the week of October 11, 2020, relative to the week of January 6 through the week of October 13, 2019. We stratified facilities by county COVID-19 incidence per 10,000 residents in each week and by 2018 fatal drug overdose rate. Finally, we conducted a multivariable linear regression analysis examining percent change in visits per week as a function of county-level COVID-19 tercile, a series of calendar month indicators, and the interaction of county-level COVID-19 tercile and month. We repeated the regression analysis replacing COVID-19 tercile with overdose tercile.

Results

Beginning the eleventh week of 2020, the number of visits to SUDT facilities declined substantially, reaching a nadir of 48% of 2019 visits in early July. In contrast to January, there were significantly fewer visits in 2020 compared to 2019 in all subsequent months (p < 0.01 in all months). Multivariable regression results found that facilities in the tercile of counties experiencing the most COVID-19 cases had a significantly greater reduction in the number of SUDT visits in 2020 for the months of June through August than facilities in counties with the fewest COVID-19 rates (p < 0.05). The study found no statistically significant difference in the change in the number of visits by facilities in counties with historically different overdose rates.

Discussion

Our findings support the hypothesis that a reduction has occurred in the average weekly number of visits to SUDT facilities. The size of the effect differs based on the number of COVID-19 cases but not on historical overdose rate.

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