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J Subst Abuse Treat. 2019 Jun 26. pii: S0740-5472(19)30120-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2019.06.015. [Epub ahead of print]

Implementation and evaluation of Missouri's Medication First treatment approach for opioid use disorder in publicly-funded substance use treatment programs.

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Missouri Institute of Mental Health, University of Missouri St. Louis, 4633 World Parkway Circle Dr., St. Louis, MO 63134, United States. Electronic address:
Missouri Institute of Mental Health, University of Missouri St. Louis, 4633 World Parkway Circle Dr., St. Louis, MO 63134, United States.
Department of Psychiatry, Washington University, 1 Brookings Dr, St. Louis, MO 63130, United States.
Missouri Department of Mental Health, 1706 East Elm St., Jefferson City, MO 65101, United States.



Leaders of Missouri's State Targeted Response to the opioid crisis (STR) grant have prioritized increasing access to treatment medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) through a "Medication First" approach. This conceptual framework prioritizes rapid, sustained, low-barrier access to MOUD for optimal impact on decreased illicit drug use and mortality. Medication First principles and practices were facilitated through state-level structural changes and disseminated to participating community treatment programs via a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary approach. In the first nine months of STR, 14 state-contracted treatment agencies operating 38 sites used STR funding to implement the Medication First model.


We utilized state billing and service data to make comparisons before and during STR on the following outcomes: MOUD utilization, timely access to MOUD, amount of psychosocial services delivered, treatment retention at 1, 3, and 6 months, and monthly price of treatment. We conducted follow-up analyses examining differences across MOUD types (no medication, methadone, buprenorphine, oral naltrexone, mixed antagonist + agonist, and extended release naltrexone).


During STR, MOUD utilization increased (44.8% to 85.3%), timeliness of MOUD receipt improved (Median of 8 days vs. 0 days), there were fewer psychosocial services delivered, treatment retention improved at one, three, and six month timeframes, and the median cost per month was 21% lower than in the year prior to STR. All differences were driven by increased utilization of buprenorphine.


Findings suggest Medication First implementation through STR was successful in all targeted domains. Though much more work is needed to further reduce logistical, financial, and cultural barriers to improved access to maintenance MOUD, the steps taken through Missouri's STR grant show significant promise at making swift and drastic transformations to a system of care in response to a growing public health emergency.


Buprenorphine; Opioid use disorder; State targeted response; Substance use treatment


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