New federal research has revealed significant gaps in substance use disorder treatment and identified effective care strategies for people following non-deadly drug overdoses. Researchers from several organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services studied 137,000 Medicare beneficiaries who experienced a nonfatal overdose in 2020. 

The findings were stark: more than 17% suffered a subsequent non-fatal overdose, and around 1% died within the following year.

“People who have experienced one overdose are more likely to experience another,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. 

Delphin-Rittmon emphasized that providing survivors with comprehensive care, including medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and naloxone, significantly reduces the likelihood of deadly overdoses.

“In short, medications for opioid use disorder, opioid overdose reversal medications, and behavioral health supports save lives,” said Delphin-Rittmon.

The research highlighted the life-saving potential of various treatments:

  • Methadone reduced the odds of dying by 58%.
  • Buprenorphine decreased the risk by 52%.
  • Naloxone lowered the odds by 30%.
  • Behavioral health assessment or crisis services cut the risk by 75%.

Despite these benefits, the study found that only 4% of participants received medications for opioid use disorder, and just 6% filled a prescription for naloxone.

“At a time when over 100,000 people continue to die each year from overdose, we must prioritize making effective treatments and tools accessible – especially to those who are at the highest risk,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.