Research/studies Drugs

Large employers spending $2.6 billion to treat worker opioid misuse: study

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San Francisco — Despite a decrease in opioid use among people who have health insurance through their employer, large employers have experienced a sharp increase in costs for treating opioid addiction and overdoses among their workers, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Researchers used a sample of health benefit claims to calculate insurance and out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs between 2004 and 2016. A sample of between 1.2 million and 19.8 million enrollees per year was analyzed to gauge the change from 2004 to 2016 in opioid-related spending and use.

Results showed that the percentage of insurance enrollees who worked for a large employer (more than 1,000 employees) and had at least one opioid prescription in a year dropped to 13.6 percent in 2016 from 17.3 percent in 2009. However, the amount spent treating opioid addiction and overdoses jumped to $2.6 billion from $646 million. The majority of the $2.6 billion was spent on young adults.

“The drop-off in opioid prescribing frequency since 2009 is seen across people with diagnoses in all major disease categories, including cancer, but the drop-off is pronounced among people with complications from pregnancy or birth, musculoskeletal conditions and injuries,” the report states.

Other findings:

  • Annual inpatient cost for opioid addiction treatment averaged $16,104 in 2016, up from $5,809 in 2004.
  • 53 percent of spending was for the treatment of enrollees’ dependent children, 29 percent for the employees and 18 percent for their spouses.
  • Opioid prescription use was highest among people ages 55 to 64, with 22 percent having been prescribed at least one opioid in 2016.
  • The age groups most likely to have an opioid addiction were 26-29, 30-34 and 35-39 years old.

The study was published online April 5 on the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, a partnership between the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation that monitors the U.S. health system’s performance on key quality and cost measures.

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