Medicaid’s Role in Addressing the Opioid Epidemic


By Kristie Lui, intern Office of Diversity & Equity

With the opioid epidemic increasing among Americans, Medicaid plays a vital role in the nation’s effort to combat the epidemic. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2017), over 2 million people have a prescription opioid addiction and over half a million have a heroin addiction as of 2015. Death from drug overdose has also managed to triple from 2002 to 2015. By covering those struggling with opioid addiction as well as enhancing state capacity to provide access to early interventions and treatment, Medicaid proves a significant tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

The expansion of Medicaid has provided states with additional resources to cover adults with addictions who were previously excluded from the program. In 2014, Medicaid and Chip covered 30% of people with opioid addiction. Also in Medicaid expansion states, uninsured hospitalizations related to behavioral health dramatically decreased from 20% in 2012 to 5% in 2015.

The Medicaid program covers a wide range of treatment services such as inpatient detoxification, intensive outpatient, case management/ care coordination, and other inpatient services. All state Medicaid programs also cover at least 1 of 3 opioid medications (methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone), and most cover all three. Over half of states have also increased Medicaid enrollees’ access to naloxone, a life-saving prescription drug that reverses the lethal effects of opioid overdose.

Ultimately Medicaid is playing a central role in America’s efforts to address the opioid epidemic through the coverage of a variety of treatment services, medications, and increased naloxone access.

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