The magnitude of the ongoing opioid crisis is almost beyond understanding. In 2015, more than 15,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses, and thousands more died from illicit opioid use. Last year, between 59,000 and 65,000 people died from drug overdoses, a 19 percent jump from the previous year that has made drug overdoses the leading cause of death in Americans under age 50. Opioid abuse remains the only major public health crisis that is worsening despite major initiatives from local, state and federal authorities.
The scourge of opioid abuse has struck millions of families in almost every community, upending the lives of users and their loved ones. The emotional torment involved in watching a family member succumb to addiction is impossible to accurately capture in words, but this pain is often compounded by mounting medical bills.
The number of hospitalizations related to opioid dependence rose from 301,000 in 2002 to more than 520,000 in 2012. Although the underlying cause created a host of health complications, one of the most common was infection. During this period, infections related to opioid use rose 91 percent and included endocarditis, osteomyelitis, septic arthritis and epidural abscess. Among this population of infected opioid users, 5 percent will die and another 25 percent will lose some level of functionality.
The cost of these hospitalizations is an enormous burden on American families and the nation as a whole. It is estimated that the cost of the average opioid-related hospitalization in 2012 was $28,000, while those involving an infection ballooned to $107,000. Insurance pays for a large portion of this; in 2013, insurers paid almost $26 billion of the total $28 billion national expenditure to treat opioid-dependent patients.
In addition to the health care costs, there is an enormous economic burden imposed on American society. It has been estimated that the opioid epidemic costs the nation more than $78 billion annually. While two-thirds of this is related to medical care, $20 billion is a result of lost productivity. More than $21 billion is due to fatal overdoses. Nearly a quarter of this entire health care expenditure is saddled on public insurers like Medicaid, Medicare and Veterans’ Administration.
There is also an array of secondary economic costs produced by this public health disaster. The judicial system spends almost $7.7 billion annually on opioid-related criminal or civil litigation. These costs are almost entirely borne by local or state governments that must also shoulder the lost taxes from opioid abuse.
While many of these costs can be quantified, many more are undefinable. There is a staggering reduction in quality of life for opioid addicts as well as their families. This is intensified if there is a fatality, which may in turn lead to substance abuse among survivors and produce a new cycle of abuse. Although our society has not yet reached a tipping point where opioid abuse is endemic, if the current situation continues unchecked, we are likely to reach that point in the very near future.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.