Opioid crisis: Hospitalizations, costs soared in last decade

The opioid abuse epidemic has already hit hospitals hard, mobilizing hospital leaders and prompting the federal government to allocate more than $500 million to address the problem. Now new research published in Health Affairs finds that the crisis has also hurt hospitals financially.

Between 2002 and 2012, hospitalizations due to opioid use or addiction increased by more than 200,000, according to the research. In the same timeframe, dangerous infections such as endocarditis nearly doubled among those patients, reaching 6,535 in 2012.

The figures have likely grown in the meantime, lead author Matthew Ronan, a hospitalist at the Veterans Health Administration in Boston, told Kaiser Health News. The cost of treating these patients is skyrocketing as well; hospitals charged nearly $15 billion for opioid-related inpatient care, an increase of more than double since 2002, even adjusting for inflation. Meanwhile, the cost of treating associated infections surpassed $700 million. Much like the patient volumes, the costs are likely understated, Ronan told the publication, since they don't account for costs such as post-discharge care, even though such patients typically require follow-up in nursing homes or at home.

These results will likely reshape discussions on the addiction epidemic by making clear that, beyond its status as a public health crisis, it is also a public cost matter, Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told KHN. Medicaid was the most common payer for both forms of hospitalization, according to the study, and as states expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, taxpayers will likely shoulder a bigger share of the cost.

"It's tax dollars going to address this issue," said Compton. "By treating it more effectively and helping prevent these cases, we might be able to save money for all of us."

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- here's the KHN article