Opioid agonist treatment and fatal overdose risk in a state-wide US population receiving opioid use disorder services

Noa Krawczyk, Ramin Mojtabai, Elizabeth A. Stuart, Michael Fingerhood, Deborah Agus, B. Casey Lyons, Jonathan P. Weiner, Brendan Saloner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background and aims: Evidence from randomized controlled trials establishes that medication treatment with methadone and buprenorphine reduces opioid use and improves treatment retention. However, little is known about the role of such medications compared with non-medication treatments in mitigating overdose risk among US patient populations receiving treatment in usual care settings. This study compared overdose mortality among those in medication versus non-medication treatments in specialty care settings. Design: Retrospective cohort study using state-wide treatment data linked to death records. Survival analysis was used to analyze data in a time-to-event framework. Setting: Services delivered by 757 providers in publicly funded out-patient specialty treatment programs in Maryland, USA between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2016. Participants: A total of 48 274 adults admitted to out-patient specialty treatment programs in 2015–16 for primary diagnosis of opioid use disorder. Measurements: Main exposure was time in medication treatment (methadone/buprenorphine), time following medication treatment, time exposed to non-medication treatments and time following non-medication treatment. Main outcome was opioid overdose death during and after treatment. Hazard ratios were calculated using Cox proportional hazard regression. Propensity score weights were adjusted for patient information on sex, age, race, region of residence, marital and veteran status, employment, homelessness, primary opioid, mental health treatment, arrests and criminal justice referral. Findings: The study population experienced 371 opioid overdose deaths. Periods in medication treatment were associated with substantially reduced hazard of opioid overdose death compared with periods in non-medication treatment [adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) = 0.18, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.08–0.40]. Periods after discharge from non-medication treatment (aHR = 5.45, 95% CI = 2.80–9.53) and medication treatment (aHR = 5.85, 95% CI = 3.10–11.02) had similar and substantially elevated risks compared with periods in non-medication treatments. Conclusions: Among Maryland patients in specialty opioid treatment, periods in treatment are protective against overdose compared with periods out of care. Methadone and buprenorphine are associated with significantly lower overdose death compared with non-medication treatments during care but not after treatment is discontinued.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1683-1694
Number of pages12
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Data linkage
  • opioid agonists
  • opioids
  • overdose
  • treatment
  • usual care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Opioid agonist treatment and fatal overdose risk in a state-wide US population receiving opioid use disorder services'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this