Opioid crisis: Dependence diagnoses spike for privately insured

Drugs

The rise of the opioid abuse crisis has led to a sharp uptick in the number of opioid dependence diagnoses in recent years among the privately insured, according to a white paper from FAIR Health.

FAIR Health, a non-profit databank focused on healthcare transparency, examined its database of more than 20 billion privately billed health claims and found that between 2007 and 2014, opioid dependence diagnoses rocketed up 3,203 percent. The diagnoses “overwhelmingly” occurred among 19-35 year olds.

Even for researchers who are aware of the problem, the report's findings are shocking. Andrew Kolodny, a senior researcher at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, told Kaiser Health News that “a 3,000 percent increase is enormous.” He was not involved in the FAIR Health report.

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What's more, the periods from 2002-2004 from to 2011-2013 experienced a 63 percent rise in heroin use among those with private or other insurance, excluding Medicaid, according to the white paper. Prescription opioids are frequently a point of entry to heroin use, as 75 percent of individuals report starting use of heroin after first abusing prescription opioids. 

According to Kolodny, over-prescription of opioids also is stoking the embers of the crisis. Between 2000 and 2012, prescriptions increased two-fold, reaching 282 million, he noted.

Many private insurers are developing programs to combat the epidemic, efforts that are all the more pressing given that 2014 was a record year for opioid-induced death, claiming more than 28,000 lives.

But a greater effort is required to both prevent future cases and treat people who already struggle with addiction, Kolodny told KHN.

- read FAIR Health’s white paper
- here's the KHN article