Opioid Addiction Treatment Costs Rise for Large Employers

April 5, 2018 -- Use of prescription opioid painkillers by Americans with employer-based health insurance has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, but there has been a steep rise in the cost of treating opioid addiction and overdoses, a new report says.

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the annual cost of treating opioid addiction and overdose involving both prescription and illegal use rose more than eight-fold between 2004 and 2016, from $0.3 billion to $2.6 billion.

The average per-patient cost of inpatient treatment for opioid addiction was $16,104 a year in 2016, up from $5,809 in 2004. More than half (53 percent) of that spending was for treatment of enrollees' dependent children.

However, use of prescription opioids peaked in 2009, when 17.3 percent of enrollees in large employer plans had at least one opioid prescription during the year. By 2016, the rate was 13.6 percent, the report found.

Opioid prescription use is highest among older enrollees, with 22 percent of people age 55-64 having at least one opioid prescription in 2016. Opioid prescription use is higher among people in the South (16 percent) than in the Midwest (14 percent), West (12 percent) or the Northeast (11 percent), according to the report.