Nearly 20 million people in the United States had a substance use disorder in 2017, but just 11 percent of them received treatment—whether through inpatient or outpatient facilities, physicians’ offices, prison or jail, or even self-help programs. Federal survey data show that less than 10 percent of those with the medical condition known as opioid use disorder (OUD) received medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that year.
OUD is characterized by a problematic pattern of opioid use that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress, while MAT provides Food and Drug Administration-approved medications in combination with counseling to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ substance use prevention and treatment initiative is working with states to help expand access to evidence-based treatments for OUD such as MAT. But to do that effectively, policymakers need to better understand the factors that prevent people from seeking and accessing care.
To get insight from those directly affected, Pew conducted a series of focus groups in 2018 in two partner states—Indiana and Wisconsin—to bring together people who were misusing opioids, those in recovery, family members and caregivers, health care providers, and other treatment professionals. More than 200 people took part in the process. The results then helped inform Pew’s recommendations to policymakers in both states.
The experiences and perspectives expressed in the groups highlight the range of challenges that people face when seeking and accessing OUD treatment. Among the commonly mentioned factors were:
The participants in these states represent only a sample of those dealing with OUD. Broad conclusions cannot be drawn for all who live with this disorder, but the results shed light on the barriers people face when seeking and getting access to treatment.
More importantly, the discussions can help inform policy solutions to expand access to evidence-based care. In this case, Pew incorporated the perspectives of those with experiences with OUD into policy recommendations for both Indiana and Wisconsin.
Alexandra Duncan is a senior officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ substance use prevention and treatment initiative.