Importance: The ongoing overdose crisis continues to adversely affect adolescents and young adults (AYAs) and has led to numerous preventable deaths. Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, have the potential to reduce opioid use and associated harms; however, there are concerns that AYAs lack access to these potentially life-saving medications.
Objective: To systematically review peer-reviewed literature on MOUD access and associated factors to synthesize strategies that can improve MOUD access for AYAs who use opioids.
Evidence review: The MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Sociological Abstracts, Web of Science, and Global Dissertations & Theses databases were searched from database inception until May 3, 2021. English, French, Russian, or Spanish peer-reviewed studies that evaluated the availability, prescription receipt, or initiation of MOUD were eligible for inclusion.
Findings: This systematic review identified 37 cohort (n = 17), cross-sectional (n = 15), and qualitative (n = 5) studies that accounted for 179 785 AYAs (mean [SD] age, 24.4 [3.9] years; 148 779 [85%] were female; 67 771 [84%] were White) and examined access to methadone (30 studies), buprenorphine (26 studies), and naltrexone (10 studies). Findings reinforce concerns that AYAs were less likely to access MOUD and suggest that adolescents were more likely to receive naltrexone or buprenorphine-naloxone, which have a lower potential for abuse, in comparison with young adults. This review also identified other factors that were associated with MOUD access, including criminal justice involvement, residing in the US South, living in a limited-income area, Black race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, suggesting ways in which treatment services may be improved to increase MOUD access and meet the treatment goals of AYAs.
Conclusion and relevance: This systematic review found gaps in MOUD access between AYAs and non-AYA populations in addition to differences in MOUD access between adolescents and young adults. Considering that existing clinical guidelines recommend the use of MOUD among AYAs, and in light of the increasing number of opioid toxicity deaths, there is a need to improve MOUD access among AYAs by reducing barriers to MOUD and providing AYAs with a continuum of health and social supports alongside MOUD. Future research into ways to encourage MOUD uptake among AYAs may improve the treatment and health outcomes for this population.