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Substance Use Disorders Among Medicare Beneficiaries: Prevalence, Mental and Physical Comorbidities, and Treatment Barriers

      Introduction

      This study aimed to determine the prevalence of treated and untreated substance use disorders among Medicare beneficiaries, the characteristics of Medicare beneficiaries with substance use disorders, and reasons for their unmet needs.

      Methods

      This study used data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 2015–2019. Substance use disorder was defined based on DSM-IV dependence or abuse criteria. Descriptive analyses were conducted in 2021, including testing for differences in unadjusted means.

      Results

      Approximately 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries were estimated to have past-year substance use disorder (8% of Medicare beneficiaries aged <65 years and 2% aged ≥65 years). Overall, 77% had an alcohol use condition, 16% had a prescription drug use condition, and 10% had a marijuana use condition. Of those who had past-year substance use disorder, 11% received treatment for their condition. Common reasons for not receiving treatment were lack of motivation (41%), financial barriers (33%), concern about what others might think (24%), logistical barriers such as lack of transportation (21%), and uncertainty about treatment efficacy (13%). Medicare beneficiaries with substance use disorders were more than twice as likely to have past-year serious psychological distress as those without substance use disorders (44% vs 21%, p<0.001 for those aged <65 years; 14% vs 4%, p<0.001 for those aged ≥65 years). Percentages of past-year suicidal ideation were also much higher among Medicare beneficiaries with substance use disorders than without (24% vs 6%, p<0.001 for those aged <65 years; 7% vs 2%, p=0.006 for those aged ≥65 years).

      Conclusions

      Few Medicare beneficiaries who need substance use disorder treatment receive it. Reducing Medicare coverage gaps and stigma may help meet this need.
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