Only One In Twenty Justice-Referred Adults In Specialty Treatment For Opioid Use Receive Methadone Or Buprenorphine

Health Aff (Millwood). 2017 Dec;36(12):2046-2053. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0890.


People in the US criminal justice system experience high rates of opioid use disorder, overdose, and other adverse outcomes. Expanding treatment is a key strategy for addressing the opioid epidemic, but little is known about whether the criminal justice system refers people to the highest standard of treatment: the use of the opioid agonist therapies methadone or buprenorphine. We used 2014 data from the national Treatment Episode Data Set to examine the use of agonist treatment among justice-involved people referred to specialty treatment for opioid use disorder. Only 4.6 percent of justice-referred clients received agonist treatment, compared to 40.9 percent of those referred by other sources. Of all criminal justice sources, courts and diversionary programs were least likely to refer people to agonist treatment. Our findings suggest that an opportunity is being missed to promote effective, evidence-based care for justice-involved people who seek treatment for opioid use disorder.

Keywords: Access To Care; Disparities; Mental Health/Substance Abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Criminal Law*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone