A substance use disorder occurs when the habitual use of alcohol, drugs, or both causes health problems and/or reduces an individual’s ability to live their daily life as they otherwise would. Approximately 20 million adults in the United States have a substance use disorder, and nearly 130 people in the United States die daily after overdosing on opioids. Substance use often co-occurs with mental illness—close to half of adults with a substance use disorder also experience a mental illness at the same time.

Disparities exist in access to treatment—for example, compared to white patients, Black patients are 4.3 times less likely to receive buprenorphine treatment for opioid use disorder. Moreover, Hispanics were 6.3 percentage points less likely to complete drug treatment than their white counterparts. In addition, Native Americans are 6.6 times more likely to die of an alcohol-induced causes than all other US races.

The impact of substance use disorders is even more concerning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has stressed our collective psyche. It is estimated that by 2021, half of the US population will experience significant traumatic stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic and, of those, nearly 35 million people could develop a new behavioral health condition (mental or substance use disorder).

Opportunities for innovation we are pursuing include novel strategies to help reduce the stigma around opioid addiction, models to reduce unjustified variation in prescribing patterns, and approaches to improve the efficacy of treatment for opioid use disorder. We are also supporting efforts to help individuals with new or preexisting substance use disorders get the care they need during the immediate COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.

Featured initiative

Combatting Stigma Related to Opioids

We have supported Shatterproof, a national non-profit organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the U.S., in their development of a national strategy to help reduce the stigma around opioid addiction. View this report, “A Movement to End Addiction Stigma,” for more detail, including specific action plans that organizations across the country can adopt to reduce stigma.


Many are working to address the opioids crisis in the United States, but much work remains. It’s time to take action. Tom Latkovic, Senior Partner, and a leader of McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Healthcare explains.

Featured insights


A holistic approach for the US behavioral health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic

– COVID-19 creates additional challenges for healthcare leaders seeking to improve behavioral health while offering an opportunity... for meaningful change.

Acknowledged but unaddressed

– The COVID-19 crisis and global mental health

National employer survey reveals behavioral health in a COVID-19 era as a major concern

– McKinsey’s annual employer survey provides insights into one of the most pressing concerns for employers, the behavioral... health of their workforce.

The implications of COVID-19 for vulnerable populations

– McKinsey’s open-access dashboard looks at individuals with physical or behavioral health vulnerability and their risk for... developing COVID-19.

Changing views on mental and substance use disorders: An interview with Patrick Kennedy

– Former congressman, Patrick Kennedy, discusses mental and substance use disorders and how healthcare stakeholders can help these... populations especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Returning to resilience: The impact of COVID-19 on mental health and substance use

– As governments race to contain COVID-19, it is important to know the actions society can take to mitigate the behavioral health... impact of the pandemic and economic crisis.

Insights on mental health from a 2019 McKinsey Consumer survey

– McKinsey conducted a national survey to understand the impact of unmet social needs on consumer health outcomes, utilization,... and preferences. Given the link between unmet social needs and lower socioeconomic status, respondents for this survey included adult Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries as well as low-income adults who were uninsured or who had purchased insurance through the individual market.

Why we need bolder action to combat the opioid epidemic

– Although the opioid crisis in the US is gaining increased attention, the steps taken to date to combat it are insufficient. Our... research suggests that much broader—and bolder—action is required.

Ten insights on the US opioid crisis from claims data analysis

– Careful analysis of health insurers’ claims data can provide important insights into the opioid crisis by identifying patterns... that could help shape strategies to combat opioid dependence and abuse.

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