Opioid crisis: FDA mulls costly implant as a treatment solution

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering approving an under-the-skin implant for patients addicted to opioids, but the cost of such treatment is raising questions. 

The device, an implant called Probuphine, would allow for a timed-release of the drug buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction, according to Kaiser Health News. The FDA could approve it as early as next month.

But the implant, which would have to be replaced every six months, could wind up costing as much as $12,000 a year for patients, the article said. By comparison, a supply of regular buprenorphine pills runs about $2,000 a year.

However, the implant in clinical trials kept as many as 88 percent of patients from relapsing and abusing opioids again--versus 72 percent among those who take pills.

But even at a $1,000 a month cost, such implants would still be cheaper than treating individual patients who overdose on opioids. Many of them require care in the emergency room, and the population tends to be underinsured compared to other patient cohorts. Moreover, about half need to be admitted as inpatients. A study released last year calculated such inpatient treatment costs hospitals $2.3 billion annually. The cost of a single overdose can run into the six figures, including not only hospital but ambulance costs, the administration of antidotes by first responders and rehabilitation treatment costs.

Such financial strains have put some hospitals in a bind, pushing them to enact prescribing protocols intended to avoid addiction, and improved screenings to determine whether patients have abuse issues with opioids.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article