Scientific article
Publication Date
Published by / Citation
Onuoha, E. N., Leff, J. A., Schackman, B. R., McCollister, K. E., Polsky, D., & Murphy, S. M. (2021). Economic evaluations of pharmacologic treatment for opioid use disorder: a systematic literature review. Value in Health, 24(7), 1068-1083.
Original Language


United States
cost-benefit analysis
cost-effectiveness analysis
cost offset
healthcare utilization
Opioid Use Disorder
systematic review

Economic Evaluations of Pharmacologic Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder: A Systematic Literature Review



The crisis of opioid use puts a strain on resources in the United States and worldwide. There are 3 US Food and Drug Administration–approved medications for treatment of opioid use disorder: methadone, buprenorphine, and injectable extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX). The comparative effectiveness and cost vary considerably among these 3 medications. Economic evaluations provide evidence that help stakeholders efficiently allocate scarce resources. Our objective was to summarize recent health economic evidence of pharmacologic treatment of opioid use disorder interventions.


We searched PubMed for peer-reviewed studies in English from August 2015 through December 2019 as an update to a 2015 review. We used the Drummond checklist to evaluate and categorize economic evaluation study quality. We summarized results by economic evaluation methodology and pharmacologic treatment modality.


We identified 105 articles as potentially relevant and included 21 (4 cost-offset studies and 17 cost-effectiveness/cost-benefit studies). We found strengthened evidence on buprenorphine and methadone, indicating that these treatments are economically advantageous compared with no pharmacotherapy, but found limited evidence on XR-NTX. Only half of the cost-effectiveness studies used a generic preference-based measure of effectiveness, limiting broad comparison across diseases/disorders. The disease/disorder-specific cost-effectiveness measures vary widely, suggesting a lack of consensus on the value of substance use disorder treatment.


We found studies that provide new evidence supporting the cost-effectiveness of buprenorphine compared with no pharmacotherapy. We found a lack of evidence supporting superior economic value for buprenorphine versus methadone, suggesting that both are attractive alternatives. Further economic research is needed on XR-NTX, as well as other emerging pharmacotherapies, treatment modalities, and dosage forms.

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