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Medication Adherence, Policy

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Medicaid: The Linchpin in State Strategies to Prevent and Address Opioid Use Disorders

April 5, 2018

The nation’s opioid epidemic claimed more than 42,000 lives in 2016, and more than 2 million people in the United States have an opioid use disorder (OUD). Yet only 1 in 5 people suffering from an OUD receive treatment. The federal government has responded to the crisis by declaring a public health emergency and making over $500 million of OUD-targeted funding available to states last year. While critical, these dollars (and the programs they fund) pale in comparison to the scale and scope of resources the Medicaid program brings to states to combat the opioid epidemic and other substance use disorders (SUD). Indeed, today, Medicaid covers more than 1 in 3 people with an OUD, and program spending for people with an OUD in 2013 (before Medicaid expansion in many states) was more than $9 billion.

While recent federal efforts to provide OUD-specific grant funding are an essential contribution, the profound economic and social consequences of addiction require substantial and sustained investment in coverage and treatment through the Medicaid program. In short, Medicaid is an existing, robust and stable base from which states are battling, and will continue to battle, the opioid epidemic and SUD issues more broadly. This is particularly true in states that have expanded Medicaid; Medicaid expansion enables these states to provide a wider range of services to a larger group of people suffering from an OUD.

In an issue brief prepared for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s State Health and Value Strategies program, Manatt uses data from three states—New Hampshire, Ohio and West Virginia—to highlight Medicaid’s role as the linchpin in states’ efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

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