Estimating the Costs of Opioid Abuse

The Institute of Medicine estimates that over 100 million US adults suffer from chronic pain due to medical conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, migraine headaches and postoperative pain. Many of these conditions affect mental and physical functioning, often severely restricting the ability to perform daily routines. To treat pain, physicians have increasingly turned to prescription opioid analgesics, which are among the most effective drugs for pain management. As a result, opioids have become some of the most frequently prescribed medications in the USA, with over 235 million prescriptions dispensed in 2011.

Opioid abuse and dependence is problematic across many age groups, including the working-age popu- lation and their dependents. Little is known, however, about the economic costs of opioid abuse/dependence imposed on employers, who pay for a substantial portion of healthcare costs through their contributions to employer- sponsored health insurance and are also affected by indirect costs such as those due to disability and workplace absenteeism.

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