Results of 2021 NSDUH Survey Demonstrate the Need to Improve Access to Treatment

Statement of Libby Jones, Program Director of the Overdose Prevention Initiative, Global Health Advocacy Incubator

January 6, 2023

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released the results of the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The Overdose Prevention Initiative at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator commends SAMHSA for its commitment to collecting high quality data that demonstrate the urgency of the U.S. overdose crisis and the immediate need for solutions to the crisis.

According to the 2021 NSDUH:

  • More than 61 million people (ages 12 and older) used illicit drugs in the past year. More than 9 million people misused opioids.
  • 24 million people had a drug use disorder — highest among people ages 18-24.
  • In 2021, the percentage of people who needed treatment in the past year was highest among Indigenous and Tribal communities, a group that has seen sharp increases in overdose death rates in recent years.
  • 94% of people with a substance use disorder did not receive treatment in 2021.

"The 2021 NSDUH shows just how many Americans are affected by addiction, and why improving access to treatment is so critical, said Libby Jones, Project Director of the Overdose Prevention Initiative. "More than 100,000 people died of overdose last year, and the increases in illicit drug use underscore the urgent need for policy actions that improve access to life-saving medications, like buprenorphine and methadone, that prevent opioid overdose death. The survey also proves how critical harm reduction services, like the distribution of naloxone and fentanyl test strips, are to people on the frontlines of the overdose crisis."

In recent months, the Biden Administration and Congress have taken great steps to improve access to effective treatment for opioid use disorder. The bipartisan Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (MAT Act), which removed the X-waiver requirement to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder, passed with the Omnibus Appropriations bill at the end of 2022. The omnibus also included provisions that will make it easier to access methadone treatment.

These and other policy advances show that comprehensive support for addiction is within reach. The Overdose Prevention Initiative will continue working with the Biden Administration and champions in the 118th Congress to advance policies that improve access to treatment, save lives, and prevent future overdose deaths.

Established in 2021, the Overdose Prevention Initiative at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator advances policy solutions that save lives and end the U.S. overdose crisis. The Initiative is dedicated to reducing inequities and disparities in substance use disorder care and expanding access to harm reduction services and substance use disorder treatment.

The Overdose Prevention Initiative is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and is a partnership between the Global Health Advocacy Incubator and the Tobacco Free Kids Action Fund.

For questions, please contact Ben Orton-Vipond at