Access to Medications for Opioid Use Disorder in Rural Versus Urban Veterans Health Administration Facilities

Jessica J. Wyse, Sarah Shull, Stephan Lindner, Benjamin J. Morasco, Adam J. Gordon, Kathleen F. Carlson, P. Todd Korthuis, Sarah S. Ono, Joseph G. Liberto, Travis I. Lovejoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: For patients with opioid use disorder (OUD), medications for OUD (MOUD) reduce morbidity, mortality, and return to use. Nevertheless, a minority of patients receive MOUD, and underutilization is pronounced among rural patients. Objective: While Veterans Health Administration (VHA) initiatives have improved MOUD access overall, it is unknown whether access has improved in rural VA health systems specifically. How “Community Care,” healthcare paid for by VHA but received from non-VA providers, has affected rural access is also unknown. Design: Data for this observational study were drawn from the VHA Corporate Data Warehouse. Facility rurality was defined by rural-urban commuting area code of the primary medical center. International Classification of Diseases codes identified patients with OUD within each year, 2015–2020. We included MOUD (buprenorphine, methadone, extended-release naltrexone) received from VHA or paid for by VHA but received at non-VA facilities through Community Care. We calculated average yearly MOUD receipt; linear regression of outcomes on study years identified trends; an interaction between year and rural status evaluated trend differences over time. Participants: All 129 VHA Health Systems, a designation that encompasses one or more medical centers and their affiliated community-based outpatient clinics Main Measures: The average proportion of patients diagnosed with OUD that receive MOUD within rural versus urban VHA health care systems. Key Results: From 2015 to 2020, MOUD access increased substantially: the average proportion of patients receiving MOUD increased from 34.6 to 48.9%, with a similar proportion of patients treated with MOUD in rural and urban systems in all years. Overall, a small proportion (1.8%) of MOUD was provided via Community Care, and Community Care did not disproportionately benefit rural health systems. Conclusions: Strategies utilized by VHA could inform other health care systems seeking to ensure that, regardless of geographic location, all patients are able to access MOUD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1871-1876
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • access
  • opioid agonist
  • opioid use disorder
  • rural
  • veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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