Only a small percentage of youth who report pain reliever (including opioid) abuse or dependence receive addiction treatment, and youth of color are significantly less likely to receive treatment than their white peers. According to Child Trends’ analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, this gap between white youth and youth of color age 21 and under has persisted almost every year since 2002, when opioid prescription deaths began to rise. As of 2016, 16.1 percent of white youth who abused pain relievers received treatment, compared to 16.7 percent in 2002. Just 9.5 percent of youth of color who abused pain relievers received treatment in 2016—a 4.3 percentage point drop from 2002 (when 13.8 percent received treatment) and persistently lower than their white counterparts.
In the Child Trends analysis, youth of color includes black, Hispanic, Native American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Asian, and multiracial youth; these groups were combined due to small sample sizes, which is regrettable since each group’s experiences in attempting to access treatment are different.
During the period from 2002 to 2016, some positive steps were taken; overall, though, these do not seem to be associated with either increases in the percentage of youth receiving addiction treatment or with closing the gap between white youth and youth of color. These positive steps include increased government spending on substance abuse during the Great Recession, largely through Medicaid. It’s possible that this increase temporarily closed the gap between white youth and youth of color because most government spending was on Medicaid and nearly 60 percent of nonelderly Medicaid enrollees were people of color in 2008. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, also increased insurance coverage among youth, but research has found that the ACA did not increase substance abuse treatment among young people.
Read more on ChildTrends.org.