Cost Of Opioid Treatments In U.S. Hits $600 Billion

A demonstration dose of Suboxone film, which is placed under the tongue. It is used to treat opioid addiction.

The cost of opioid treatments in the U.S. has reached $600 billion, but the chronic pain of so many Americans means the cost will only continue to rise.

The shocking data was given by Richard Ives, vice president of the Claims Workers Compensation department at Travelers, during an interview with CT News Junkie. The cost of the opioid epidemic in Connecticut alone is $80 billion. But Ives noted that opioid treatment “doesn’t cute anything. The real issue is…the rise in chronic pain.”

More Americans suffer from chronic pain than cancer, diabetes and stroke combined. But because there “are no national standards” on dispensing opioid medications, many people who live with chronic pain often end up taking more of these medications than prescribed by their doctor and become addicted to them.

In a bid to reduce the cost of opioid treatment and provide more constructive methods of treating chronic pain, the CDC issued new guidelines this year for doctors regarding painkillers, advising they cut back on prescribing them. CDC data showed that doctors wrote 82.5 prescriptions per 100 people in 2012, enough for every American adult to have their own battle

However, a study released last September showed that surgeons are ignoring the CDC advice. Researchers at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire collected post-op data from 642 patients that underwent gallbladder removal, partial breast removal or hernia repair. They revealed doctors prescribed them opioid painkillers after 581 of the surgeries, or more than 90% in total. In later interviews with 127 patients, it was revealed they only took 29% of the medication prescribed to them.

“We live in a culture in which the expectation is that we can ‘fix’ everything,” said Jane C. Ballantyne, MD, FRCA, Professor of Education and Research in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington to The Fix. “It’s hard for physicians to say ‘no’ when patients demand opioids for pain because both patients and physicians have come to believe that opioids offer a solution.”

Ballantyne said that doctors need to begin suggesting a variety of natural pain-relief treatments, including acupuncture, yoga, Tai Chi and even psychological treatments.