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The White House
For Immediate Release

Study: Individuals with Public Insurance Nearly 90% More Likely to Receive Needed Treatment for Drug Addiction

White House Drug Policy Director Highlights Vital Role Health Care System Plays in Treating Addiction

(Washington, D.C.)  Those who receive healthcare through public programs such as CHAMPUS/VA, Medicare, and Medicaid are 48% to 88% more likely to receive any treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) than those with private insurance who need similar services, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment

The study, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), with authors from SAMHSA, Mathematica Policy Research and the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD), concluded that populations with different types of public health insurance have rates of receiving treatment for an SUD that range from two to four times greater than the privately insured.  The study concluded that those who need substance abuse treatment but hold private health insurance plans appear to have the lowest rates of receiving any or specialty treatment services (6.9% and 3.9%, respectively).

“Substance abuse takes a tremendous toll on the health of individuals, the safety of families, and the vitality of our economy and our society,” said Ellen Bouchery of Mathematica, and the study’s lead author.  “These findings highlight the importance of parity in covering behavioral and mental health services at levels similar to those of other medical services.”

“The science is clear: addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that can be successfully prevented and treated,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy.  “While smart law enforcement efforts will always play a role in combating drug related crime and violence, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to improve the ability of our entire health care system – both public and private partners - to treat substance dependence the same as any other chronic disease.”

 Percentage of Population with SUD

Type of Insurance Coverage

Receive any treatment

Receive specialty treatment










Medicare and Medicaid















(Note:  Data from analysis of the 2002-2007 NSDUH)

The study, which examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002 – 2007, also found that despite relatively better access to treatment services compared to those with private healthcare coverage, public insurance holders with SUDs still face a significant treatment gap – the difference between those who need substance abuse treatment and those who actually receive such services.  The study’s findings indicate that a treatment gap of more than 70% exists within the group with the best treatment access, after controlling for a number of predisposing conditions, including severity, need, and other variables.

According to government estimates, drug use contributed an estimated $193 billion in crime, health, and lost productivity costs during 2007.  Dr. Bouchery’s previous work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the economic cost to the nation of excessive drinking was $223.5 billion in 2006.  Increasing access to effective, evidence-based treatment could help reduce the health, social, and economic consequences of untreated addiction.

About Mathematica: Mathematica Policy Research seeks to improve public well-being by conducting studies and assisting clients with program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management. Its clients include foundations, federal and state governments, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, NJ; Ann Arbor, MI; Cambridge, MA; Chicago, IL; Oakland, CA; and Washington, DC, has conducted some of the most important studies of health care, international, disability, education, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

About SAMHSA: SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

For more information about the Office of National Drug Control Policy, visit: