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Opioid use disorder and homelessness in the Veterans Health Administration: The challenge of multimorbidity

Theddeus Iheanacho, MD, Elina Stefanovics, PhD, Robert Rosenheck, MD


Objective: The aim of this study is to estimate the prevalence and sociodemographic and clinical correlates of opioid use disorder (OUD), a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, among homeless veterans nationally in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Design: Administrative data on 256,404 veterans who were homeless and/or had OUD in fiscal year 2012 were analyzed to evaluate OUD as a risk factor for homelessness along with associated characteristics, comorbidities, and patterns of service use. Bivariate analyses and logistic regression were used to compare homeless veterans with OUD to veterans with OUD but no homelessness and homeless veterans with no OUD.

Results: Altogether 17.9 percent of homeless VHA users were diagnosed with OUD and 34.6 percent of veterans with OUD were homeless. The risk ratio (RR) for homelessness among veterans with OUD was 28.7. Homeless veterans with OUD, compared to nonhomeless veterans with OUD showed extensive multimorbidity with greater risk for HIV (RR = 1.57), schizophrenia (RR = 1.62), alcohol use disorder (RR = 1.67), and others. Homeless veterans with OUD also showed more multimorbidity and used more services than homeless veterans without OUD. Homeless and nonhomeless OUD veterans used opiate agonist therapy at similar, but very low rates (13 and 15 percent).

Conclusions: OUD is a major risk factor for homelessness. Homeless veterans with OUD have high levels of multimorbidity and greater service use than veterans with either condition alone. Tailored, facilitated access to opioid agonist therapy may improve outcomes for these vulnerable veterans.


opioid use disorder, homeless, veterans, opioid agonist therapy

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