Millions With Opioid Addiction Don't Receive Residential Treatment, Finds Study

As the opioid crisis continues to deepen, with millions of Americans caught in its devastating grip, a new study comes as a stark reminder of the immense gap between the number of individuals suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) and those who have access to residential treatment, a potentially life-saving intervention that forms a critical part of many recovery journeys.

Recent research undertaken by Northwestern University has spotlighted a concerning reality – a significant portion of individuals grappling with opioid addiction are not receiving residential treatment that could steer them toward lasting sobriety. Here at NorthStar Transitions, our goal is to shine a light on these pressing issues while offering hope and guidance for individuals who are working toward lasting recovery.


The Northwestern University study looked at residential treatment use among Medicaid enrollees in nine states. It revealed that out of the 7 million adults in the U.S. struggling with OUD, merely 7% had received residential treatment, a number alarmingly low given the escalating situation. This stark gap in treatment access signals a pressing need to reevaluate and reinforce the avenues to effective care options that may currently be underutilized.

Lindsay Allen, the spearheading author of the study and an assistant professor at the Northwestern University School of Medicine, expressed her concerns, pointing to a potential neglect of effective treatment that should ideally be available to millions.


When breaking down the data state by state, a startling discrepancy in treatment availability comes to light. The usage of residential treatment varied enormously depending on location, ranging from a meager 0.3% in some states to 14.6% in others. This disparity could be attributed to differences in insurance coverage, facilities and population characteristics.

The variations are striking, but there is no “right” number of people who need residential treatment services. However, it’s apparent that this potentially life-saving care option isn’t being utilized to its fullest potential. At NorthStar Transitions, we believe that a collaborative effort to meet this threshold can bring recovery within the reach of countless more individuals who are struggling with OUD and have little or no access to care.


Colorado is no stranger to the challenges caused by the opioid epidemic. According to the Colorado Health Institute, the state saw a 54% increase in opioid overdoses in 2020 as fentanyl-related fatalities continue to rise. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin, is becoming increasingly common across the entire U.S., often sold as counterfeit pain pills or mixed into other drugs to make them more powerful. Opioid-naive individuals and those with a low tolerance are particularly susceptible to overdose.

The alarming spike in opioid-related cases in Colorado further underscores the urgency of making sure that residential treatment is available for everyone who needs it. 


Residential care provides 24-hour, live-in treatment for substance use disorders, offering a safe, structured and supportive environment where people struggling with opioid addiction can begin to work toward lasting recovery. It gives individuals a chance to step back from daily life and examine the underlying cause of their drug or alcohol use more closely. Residential treatment is also highly intensive and incorporates a range of evidence-based therapies such as individual therapy, group therapy, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and more.  

That's why experts widely consider residential treatment one of the most effective approaches to addressing OUD, helping people develop the coping skills necessary to stay sober and build a healthier lifestyle. It has been proven to not only promote lasting recovery and save lives, but it can also help reduce the burden of addiction on healthcare systems in the long run by lowering the likelihood of relapse, hospital stays and readmissions. 


While residential treatment stands as an incredibly powerful tool in treating opioid addiction, it is just one of the many rehab options available to individuals looking to get sober. Understanding and leveraging the full spectrum of available treatment programs can significantly increase one’s chances of forging a path to a healthier, drug-free life.

At NorthStar Transitions, we offer a full continuum of care, from residential treatment and outpatient programs to alumni support and continued drug screenings. For many people, the recovery journey begins with detox to rid the body of harmful substances and comfortably manage the symptoms of withdrawal associated with opioid use. Afterward, our residential program is the most recommended level of care for supporting and sustaining long-term sobriety.

Outpatient treatment is also effective for opioid use disorders, but it is more flexible and less intensive than residential care. Often, it is ideal for individuals with milder addictions or who have ongoing obligations at work or home. It can also be used after completing an inpatient program, easing the transition back into daily life at a pace that helps to support and sustain the recovery process. At any level of care, medication-assisted treatment may be used to reduce cravings, lower the risk of relapse and promote positive outcomes. 


Representing close to 20% of all Medicaid enrollees, the nine states part of the study—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—have brought forth data that can potentially shape future interventions and policies, driving a more inclusive and accessible recovery landscape.

Medicaid is a public health insurance program that provides coverage to millions of low-income individuals. As one of the largest healthcare payers in the U.S., it plays a critical role in helping people get OUD treatment. However, Medicaid coverage for residential care can vary from state to state, in terms of what services are available and who is eligible to receive them. As more Medicaid agencies begin to cover residential OUD treatment, it becomes an increasingly crucial resource in bridging the gap in rehab availability and access.

At NorthStar Transitions, we align with the positive vision of seeing more individuals accessing treatment options that could be their gateway to a renewed life. Our approach to recovery is grounded in evidence-based practices and echoes the sentiment of the study, emphasizing the irreplaceable value of residential programs in fostering long-term sobriety.


At NorthStar Transitions, we remain steadfast in our mission to provide a nurturing pathway to recovery. We believe in the power of structured, compassionate and expert care that helps individuals from all walks of life get sober and build a healthier, happier lifestyle free from opioid use. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use disorder, we can help. Get in touch with us by calling 866-407-2240 or clicking here to complete our online contact form to learn more about our treatment programs and take the first step toward freedom from addiction.

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