Cost of Opioid Treatment Spikes in Recent Years

Between 2009 and 2015, the cost of treating opioid overdose patients in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) rose by 58 percent, according to a study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. The average cost per admission was $58,500 in 2009, compared with $92,400 in 2015; this increase exceeds the medical inflation rate in the United States.

The number of deaths of ICU patients with opioid overdoses also increased during the study period, from 7 percent to 10 percent.

The report analyzed all adult admissions to 162 hospitals in 44 states between January 1, 2009, and September 31, 2015, amounting to more than 22.7 million admissions. A total of 4,145,068 of the admissions required ICU care, and 21,705 of them were related to opioid overdose. This translated to 52.4 ICU admissions for opioid overdose per 10,000 ICU admissions over the entire study period, a 34 percent increase from 2009 to 2015 (44 to 59 opioid overdoses per 10,000 admissions; p<0.0001).

Though the study could not pinpoint the direct causes of increased ICU use, the authors said this trend suggests that patients with opioid overdose are arriving at the hospital in worse condition, requiring more treatment and putting a strain on the health-care system. Factors such as patients’ underlying conditions and the introduction of more powerful opioids could also explain the spike in costs.

“Our findings raise the need for a national approach to developing safe strategies to care for patients with overdose in the ICU, to providing coordinated resources in the hospital for patients and families, and to helping survivors maintain sobriety on discharge,” the authors concluded.

Sources: STAT News, August 11, 2017; Stevens JP, Wall MJ, Novack L, et al. The critical care crisis of opioid overdoses in the United States. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2017 August 11. [Epub ahead of print]