A new Medicare study has revealed that there are instances where overdose survivors are not given the treatment they require.

A new Medicare study has revealed that there are instances where overdose survivors are not given the treatment they require.

June 25, 2024   109


The opioid crisis has been a persistent and deadly issue in the United States, and a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine sheds light on the critical gaps in treating overdose survivors, particularly those covered by Medicare. The study reveals alarming statistics about the prevalence of opioid painkiller prescriptions compared to addiction treatments, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive care and policy reform.

Background of the Study

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, conducted by researchers from several notable health organizations, delves into the post-overdose treatment patterns of nearly 137,000 Medicare beneficiaries who experienced a nonfatal overdose in 2020. The study highlights significant gaps in the administration of life-saving treatments and medications, revealing a critical area for improvement in addiction care within the Medicare system.

Key Findings from the Study

The data revealed several important insights:

  1. Prescription of Opioid Painkillers Post-Overdose: A staggering 53% of overdose survivors were prescribed opioid painkillers after their initial overdose. This practice is concerning given the high risk of subsequent overdoses associated with continued opioid use.

  2. Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD): Only 4% of the beneficiaries were prescribed MOUD, such as buprenorphine, which are proven to be effective in reducing the risk of further overdoses and aiding recovery.

  3. Naloxone Prescriptions: Just 6% of the survivors filled prescriptions for naloxone, a crucial antidote that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and save lives.

  4. Subsequent Overdoses: Within a year, 17% of the initial overdose survivors experienced a second nonfatal overdose, highlighting the persistent risk and the need for better preventive measures.

  5. Mortality Rate: Unfortunately, 1% of the survivors died from an overdose within the same period, underscoring the fatal consequences of inadequate treatment.

Data Presentation

The following bar chart visually represents the distribution of these key findings:

 Summary of Findings

Category Percentage (%)
Received opioid painkillers post-overdose 53
Prescribed MOUD 4
Filled naloxone prescription 6
Second nonfatal overdose 17
Died from overdose 1

These findings paint a stark picture of the current state of addiction treatment for Medicare beneficiaries. Despite the availability of effective medications and preventive measures, a significant proportion of survivors are not receiving the care they need to avoid subsequent overdoses and fatalities. This study calls for urgent policy changes and increased access to comprehensive addiction treatment and support services.

Recommendations for Improvement

  1. Expanding Access to MOUD: Increasing the prescription rates of medications like buprenorphine and methadone could significantly lower the risk of subsequent overdoses.

  2. Increasing Naloxone Distribution: Ensuring that more survivors have access to naloxone can prevent fatal overdoses, providing a critical safety net for those at risk.

  3. Improving Monitoring and Support: Implementing more robust follow-up care and support systems can help monitor survivors' recovery progress and intervene promptly when necessary.

  4. Addressing Stigma: Educating healthcare providers and the public about the effectiveness and necessity of addiction treatment can reduce stigma and encourage more individuals to seek help.

By addressing these gaps and enhancing the support provided to overdose survivors, we can improve outcomes and save lives. The study emphasizes the need for a coordinated effort among healthcare providers, policymakers, and communities to tackle this ongoing crisis.

You can read the full study and explore more details at the following link

Understanding the Overdose Crisis

The opioid crisis has evolved over decades, becoming a significant public health emergency. The rise in overdose deaths has been driven by the increased availability of potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl. According to the CDC, overdose deaths have continued to climb, surpassing 100,000 annually in recent years.

Challenges in Treating Overdose Survivors

Survivors of drug overdoses face numerous barriers to receiving appropriate care. These include limited access to addiction treatment programs, long wait times for medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and the pervasive stigma surrounding addiction. This stigma often deters individuals from seeking help and receiving the necessary support.

Medicare's Role in Addiction Treatment

Medicare plays a crucial role in providing healthcare to millions of Americans, including those with substance use disorders. In 2020, Medicare expanded coverage to include methadone, a highly effective MOUD. However, significant gaps remain, particularly in the coverage of residential addiction treatment, which is essential for many individuals in recovery.

Expert Opinions

Dr. Brian Hurley, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, emphasizes the importance of offering a full range of medications and support to overdose survivors. He advocates for comprehensive care that includes MOUD, behavioral health services, and continuous monitoring.

Capt. Christopher Jones from SAMHSA highlights the need for ensuring that patients who continue to receive opioids post-overdose are closely monitored and have access to naloxone. He stresses the importance of reducing overdose risks through careful planning and support.

Effective Interventions Post-Overdose

Medications for opioid use disorder, such as methadone and buprenorphine, have been proven to reduce the risk of fatal overdoses. Behavioral health services also play a critical role in supporting recovery. The study found that individuals who received MOUD or naloxone had significantly lower odds of dying from a subsequent overdose.

Gaps in the Current System

Despite the proven effectiveness of MOUD and naloxone, their use is not widespread among Medicare beneficiaries. The study highlights a troubling delay in accessing these medications, with a mean wait time of 72 days. Additionally, the lack of coverage for residential addiction treatment remains a significant barrier to comprehensive care.

The Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing challenges in treating substance use disorders. Lockdowns and social distancing measures disrupted traditional treatment methods, forcing healthcare providers to adapt quickly. Telehealth and other remote services became essential in continuing care, but these adaptations also highlighted the need for more flexible and accessible treatment options.

Success Stories and Case Studies

There are numerous examples of effective post-overdose care that demonstrate the potential for recovery with the right support. Personal stories of individuals who have overcome addiction through timely intervention and comprehensive treatment provide hope and underscore the importance of addressing gaps in the healthcare system.

Recommendations for Improvement

To close the treatment gaps identified in the study, several policy changes are necessary. These include expanding Medicare coverage to include residential addiction treatment, increasing access to MOUD and naloxone, and reducing wait times for these critical medications. Additionally, efforts to combat stigma and educate the public about the benefits of addiction treatment are essential.

The Future of Addiction Treatment

The future of addiction treatment lies in innovative approaches and community support. Emerging treatments and technologies, such as new medications and telehealth services, offer promising solutions. Building a robust support system within communities can help individuals in recovery maintain their progress and prevent relapses.

Expert Opinion by Anna Klyauzova

Anna Klyauzova, a healthcare expert from Prolife Home Care, emphasizes the critical need for comprehensive post-overdose care for Medicare beneficiaries. "The recent study underscores a significant gap in our healthcare system. It's alarming that a majority of overdose survivors are prescribed more opioids rather than receiving life-saving treatments like buprenorphine or naloxone. To truly combat the opioid crisis, we must ensure these individuals have timely access to effective addiction treatments and robust support systems," says Anna. "Addressing these gaps is essential to prevent further tragedies and support recovery." LinkedIn Profile


The findings of the recent Medicare study highlight the urgent need for comprehensive and timely treatment for overdose survivors. By addressing the significant gaps in care and implementing effective interventions, we can reduce the risk of fatal overdoses and support individuals in their recovery journey. Policymakers, healthcare providers, and communities must work together to create a healthcare system that prioritizes the well-being of those struggling with addiction.


What are the most common treatments for opioid addiction? The most common treatments include medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, along with behavioral health services and counseling.

How can naloxone help in overdose situations? Naloxone is an overdose antidote that can quickly reverse the effects of opioids, restoring normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped due to an overdose.

What steps can Medicare take to improve addiction treatment? Medicare can improve addiction treatment by expanding coverage to include residential treatment, reducing wait times for MOUD, and increasing access to naloxone.

How has the opioid crisis evolved over the years? The opioid crisis has evolved from prescription opioid misuse to the widespread availability of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, leading to a dramatic increase in overdose deaths.

Where can individuals seek help for addiction? Individuals can seek help for addiction through various resources such as SAMHSA’s National Helpline, local addiction treatment centers, and online directories like FindTreatment.gov.


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