The High and Rising Cost of Opioid Addictions

A recent study into data surrounding the health care impact of opioid addictions offers both a detailed case study in epidemiology and big data methodology, and a working model of behavioral health measurement, analysis, and prognosis. It also evokes a sense of the human and social tragedy unfolding across the country.

After examining (and qualifying) records of almost 23 million intensive care unit (ICU) admissions between 2009 to 2015, the study’s authors “suggest that these findings represent a growing and urgent call for additional critical care resources and expanded primary prevention strategies.”

Loss of life and cost of care are both rising

The report finds the cost of care rose by 58% on average for each ICU patient admitted for opioid overdose while the number of fatalities approximately doubled. The report also suggests the likelihood that these statistics are under-reported due to certain limits in the available data.

Pointing out that the available data, in fact, leaves many questions unanswered. The conclusions are necessarily dire, as are the projections that the situation has continued to worsen in the two additional years since the study’s data set closed.

Need to mobilize resources to reverse trend

The policy implications, according to the study’s authors, suggest a 2-sided approach to the issues may be necessary. They emphasize that early recognition of locally rising crises…

“ – may allow for early action in these areas to both prepare critical care units for the needs of this population and to better equip front line providers to prevent these critical care admissions from occurring.”

(Source: Stevens JP, et al. “The critical care crisis of opioid overdoses in the United States” [online: August 8, 2017]. Annals of the American Thoracic Society. Available from:

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