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Racial Inequality in Receipt of Medications for Opioid Use Disorder

OCTOBER 20, 2023

Michael L. Barnett, MD, MS
Associate Professor, Health Policy and Management
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

About the Presentation: Since 2010, Black persons in the United States have had a greater increase in opioid overdose–related mortality than other groups, but national-level evidence characterizing racial and ethnic disparities in the use of medications for opioid use disorder (OUD) is limited. We used Medicare claims data for a sample of fee-for-service beneficiaries who were eligible for Medicare owing to disability and had an index event related to OUD (nonfatal overdose, OUD hospitalization, or inpatient or residential rehabilitation). We measured the receipt of medications to treat OUD (buprenorphine, naltrexone, and naloxone), the receipt of high-risk medications (opioid analgesics and benzodiazepines), and health care utilization, all in the 180 days after the index event. We find that racial and ethnic differences in the receipt of medications to treat OUD after an index event related to this disorder among patients with disability were substantial and did not change over time. We also find a high incidence of ambulatory visits in all groups showed that disparities persisted despite frequent health care contact. These results shed light on ways to prioritize policy to improve racial equality in access to high-quality OUD treatment.

About the Presenter: Dr. Michael L. Barnett is Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a primary care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Barnett received his MD from Harvard Medical School and completed a residency and fellowship in primary care and general internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Barnett’s research focuses on high-risk prescribing, organization of primary and specialty care, and care delivery in nursing homes. He collaborates with a wide range of research partners on these topics, including public health systems in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, as well as hospital systems and health insurers. He is the recipient of multiple national research awards including outstanding junior investigator from the Society of General Internal Medicine, and citations for best research of the year from the National Institute of Healthcare Management and AcademyHealth. His work has also been covered widely in national media including the New York Times, NPR, Wall Street Journal, and CNN. His research is supported by federal agencies and foundations including the National Institute on Aging, AHRQ, Wellcome Trust, and Donaghue Foundation.