Recently, a non-profit organization called Fair Health, conducted a study using claims data from insurers representing 150 million patients to draw some interesting conclusions regarding opioid abuse and providing insight on better ways to approach treatment and aftercare. It provides interesting insight and enlightment regarding some of the problems we face with opioid addiction and how to best counteract them.
They found that health care costs related to opioid dependence have increased most sharply since 2011, exploding as a new wave of the epidemic overtook the nation, a time when younger patients, aged 19 to 35, were most likely to be diagnosed as opioid dependent. The number of medical services such as office visits and lab tests for patients with a dependency diagnosis also surged dramatically from around 217,000 in 2007 to almost 7 million in 2014. Interestingly enough, while men were more likely to be diagnosed with a dependency, it was women who were more likely to overdose. They also discovered that while younger patients were more likely to overdose on heroin, the reverse was true for overdoses related to pills, especially for people in their 40s and 50s.
Researchers further examined that last particular point, seeking an answer, and determined that while young people most often start with prescription drugs, they are more likely to turn to street drugs because of lower cost and difficulty in getting ongoing prescriptions. On the other hand, older people have an easier time getting refills and are more likely to be intimidated by a street purchase.
One further point of note was that the increase in drug monitoring programs by the individual states was beginning to have an impact, but it seems that illicit drugs were quickly taking their place to the point, that they far exceed the hard-fought gains being won in the doctor’s offices. In 2001, only 16 states had laws requiring monitoring programs. That number increased to 41 states by 2012. These programs led to a significantly lower number of prescriptions being issued and pills being offered, as both doctors and patients acted more responsibly in the face of better information and education on the dangers of addiction. However, the number of overdoses and arrests continued to rise, even as the medical community began making a dent on legal opioid distribution.
Why is this information so critical? Without this study and information from other studies like this, we’d just keep fumbling around in the dark as the opioid problems continue to get worse. Without database analysis, we’d never understand the areas in which we are winning the battle and the distinctions necessary in treating people of different ages. We need analyses like these in order to best allocate our resources, to understand what is working and what is not. At the end of the day, the old adage proves useful, “knowledge is power”. The more we understand the challenges faced by the average opioid addict in the street, and by individual subgroups, the better we can implement recovery and strategize on how to best sustain them. Let’s face it, temptation lurks around every corner. With better understanding of what tempts who and why, we can begin to finally start getting the upper hand in this epic battle.