Cost-effectiveness of Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder

JAMA Psychiatry. 2021 Jul 1;78(7):767-777. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0247.


Importance: Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the US, yet many individuals with OUD do not receive treatment.

Objective: To assess the cost-effectiveness of OUD treatments and association of these treatments with outcomes in the US.

Design and setting: This model-based cost-effectiveness analysis included a US population with OUD.

Interventions: Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with buprenorphine, methadone, or injectable extended-release naltrexone; psychotherapy (beyond standard counseling); overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND); and contingency management (CM).

Main outcomes and measures: Fatal and nonfatal overdoses and deaths throughout 5 years, discounted lifetime quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs), and costs.

Results: In the base case, in the absence of treatment, 42 717 overdoses (4132 fatal, 38 585 nonfatal) and 12 660 deaths were estimated to occur in a cohort of 100 000 patients over 5 years, and 11.58 discounted lifetime QALYs were estimated to be experienced per person. An estimated reduction in overdoses was associated with MAT with methadone (10.7%), MAT with buprenorphine or naltrexone (22.0%), and when combined with CM and psychotherapy (range, 21.0%-31.4%). Estimated deceased deaths were associated with MAT with methadone (6%), MAT with buprenorphine or naltrexone (13.9%), and when combined with CM, OEND, and psychotherapy (16.9%). MAT yielded discounted gains of 1.02 to 1.07 QALYs per person. Including only health care sector costs, methadone cost $16 000/QALY gained compared with no treatment, followed by methadone with OEND ($22 000/QALY gained), then by buprenorphine with OEND and CM ($42 000/QALY gained), and then by buprenorphine with OEND, CM, and psychotherapy ($250 000/QALY gained). MAT with naltrexone was dominated by other treatment alternatives. When criminal justice costs were included, all forms of MAT (with buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone) were associated with cost savings compared with no treatment, yielding savings of $25 000 to $105 000 in lifetime costs per person. The largest cost savings were associated with methadone plus CM. Results were qualitatively unchanged over a wide range of sensitivity analyses. An analysis using demographic and cost data for Veterans Health Administration patients yielded similar findings.

Conclusions and relevance: In this cost-effectiveness analysis, expanded access to MAT, combined with OEND and CM, was associated with cost-saving reductions in morbidity and mortality from OUD. Lack of widespread MAT availability limits access to a cost-saving medical intervention that reduces morbidity and mortality from OUD. Opioid overdoses in the US likely reached a record high in 2020 because of COVID-19 increasing substance use, exacerbating stress and social isolation, and interfering with opioid treatment. It is essential to understand the cost-effectiveness of alternative forms of MAT to treat OUD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine / economics
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methadone / economics
  • Methadone / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Naloxone / administration & dosage
  • Naloxone / economics
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use
  • Opiate Overdose / drug therapy
  • Opiate Overdose / economics
  • Opiate Overdose / prevention & control
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / economics*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / economics*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / mortality
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Psychotherapy / economics
  • Psychotherapy / methods
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Naloxone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone