Amid mounting concerns about the abuse of pain killers throughout the U.S., a new reports indicates that opioid dependence insurance claims have surged by more than 3,000% in recent years.
A white paper recently published by Fair Health Inc., revealed drastic increases in the abuse and dependence of narcotic painkillers, heroin and other related drugs and diagnoses.
The report, Opioid Crisis among the Privately Insured, found that not only is opioid dependence and abuse worsening; but it disproportionately affects white, middle-class people in non-urban settings.
The findings appear to back results from a study published in May, which concluded the opioid abuse epidemic has begun to strain the nation’s intensive care units, calling for hospital admission of 41,000 patients in opioid-related overdoses.
Fair Health is a nonprofit organization focused on healthcare insurance and healthcare cost transparency. It compiles a database of over 20 billion privately billed healthcare claims to identify trends and patterns, specifically in this case of the opioid epidemic. The organization used diagnostic codes that indicated dependence, abuse, adverse effects and poisoning of opioids, heroin, methadone and narcotics to determine the statistics.
While claims with an opioid dependence diagnosis rose 3,203% from 2007 to 2014, opioid abuse rose less sharply by 317%. Researchers concluded that more than 69% of opioid dependence claims affect people ages 19 to 35 years old. Similarly, more than 50% of opioid abuse claims were in the age group 18 to 35. The majority of heroin overdoses, 78%, were also among patients ages 19 to 35.
A report published last month indicated high potency opioid use, such as Percocet and OxyContin, increased by 11% in 2015.
A dramatic increase was seen among heroin overdoses, which rose 530% from 2007 to 2014. By 2010, 90% of heroin users seeking treatment were white. Opioid abuse contributes to the increasing number of heroin users; they will often take opioids for pain and discover heroin is cheaper and easier to get. Nearly 75% of heroin users report using the drug after first abusing opioids.
Between 2002 to 2004 and 2011 to 2013 there was a 63% increase in heroin use among privately insured patients.
Overall, opioid dependence was more common in men; but women seem to be catching up on that statistic. Opioid abuse was diagnosed more often in women than men in 2014.
Claims with pregnancy drug dependence diagnosis codes rose 511% from 2007 to 2014. Researchers emphasize this often will put an infant at risk of suffering neonatal abstinence syndrome, which grew by 300% between 2000 and 2009.
The opioid epidemic does disproportionately affect some states in the country compared to others. The five states that had the highest level of drug overdoses in 2014, primarily opioid overdoses, were West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio.
Despite the programs and protections put in place to mitigate the opioid abuse epidemic, the crisis continues to worsen. Opioid overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled since 1999. A study published last year indicated deaths involving narcotic painkillers increased from 2003 to 2013.
“To resolve the crisis, participation from all healthcare stakeholders will be necessary—federal, state and local governments; insurers; employers; physicians, hospitals and other providers; researchers; community leaders; and consumers,” the report’s authors wrote.