Effects of Medicaid expansion on alcohol and opioid treatment admissions in U.S. racial/ethnic groups

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022 Feb 1;231:109242. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.109242. Epub 2021 Dec 24.


Background: Excessive drinking and opioid misuse exact a high toll on U.S. lives and differentially affect U.S. racial/ethnic groups in exposure and resultant harms. Increasing access to specialty treatment is an important policy strategy to mitigate this, particularly for lower-income and racial/ethnic minority persons who face distinctive barriers to care. We examined whether the U.S. Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion improved treatment utilization in the overall population and for Black, Latino, and White Americans separately.

Methods: We analyzed total and Medicaid-insured alcohol and opioid treatment admissions per 10,000 adult, state residents using 2010-2016 data from SAMHSA's Treatment Episode Data Set (N = 20 states), with difference-in-difference models accounting for state fixed effects and time-varying state demographic characteristics, treatment need, and treatment supply.

Results: Total treatment admission rates in the overall population declined for alcohol and remained roughly flat for opioids in both expansion and non-expansion states from 2010 through 2016. By contrast, estimated Medicaid-insured alcohol and opioid treatment rates rose in expansion states and decreased in non-expansion states following Medicaid expansion in 2014. The latter results were found for alcohol treatment in the total population and in each racial/ethnic group, as well as for Black and White Americans for opioid treatment.

Conclusions: Medicaid expansion was associated with greater specialty treatment entry at a time when alcohol and opioid treatment rates were declining or flat. Findings underscore benefits of expanding Medicaid eligibility to increase treatment utilization for diverse racial/ethnic groups, but also suggest an emerging treatment disparity between lower-income Americans in expansion and non-expansion states.

Keywords: Access to Care; Alcohol use disorder; Medicaid expansion; Opioid use disorder; Racial/ethnic disparities; Substance use treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Ethnicity*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Minority Groups
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid