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New research finds racial disparity in use and access to medications for opioid use disorder

Disparity between Black and White populations is most pronounced in access to buprenorphine, according to RTI-led literature review

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – A new paper from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, found that 16 of 21 peer-reviewed studies published between 2010 and 2021 demonstrated that Black populations had lower rates of use, or access to, medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) than White populations.

The research team, which included experts from RTI, the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Thomas Jefferson University, focused on studies that looked at access to and use of methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

They found significant disparities particularly related to buprenorphine. Eleven of the 16 studies specifically focused on buprenorphine and found that access favored White individuals.

“Our paper rigorously documents the disparities in access to medications for opioid use disorders between Black and White individuals,” said Tami Mark, Ph.D., a distinguished fellow at RTI and lead author of the paper. “We now need to find solutions to this problem.”

The number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. is continuing to surge, especially among minority communities, according to data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Between 2010 and 2020, the rate of opioid overdoses among Black populations rose four times faster than that of White populations. In 2020, more Black individuals died of an opioid overdose than White individuals.

The paper makes five recommendations for improving research on disparities in opioid use disorder treatment to move toward finding solutions.

“We outline best practices for moving from documenting disparities to reducing them,” said co-author and RTI public health analyst Sonya Goode. “These steps include being clearer on how race is conceptualized and interpreted in research; using measures other than self-reported race, such as perceived racism and unconscious clinician bias; documenting the experiences of Black patients in their own voice; and researching the effects of interventions aimed at reducing disparities.”

The paper was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

Read the full paper