Healthcare costs and nonadherence among chronic opioid users

Harry L Leider, Jatinder Dhaliwal, Elizabeth J Davis, Mahesh Kulakodlu, Ami R Buikema
American Journal of Managed Care 2011, 17 (1): 32-40

OBJECTIVES: To assess the health economic burden of chronic opioid users and to determine whether opioid regimen nonadherence contributes to increased healthcare costs.

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective claims-based analysis of patients with long-term prescription opioid use (>120 days of supply over 6 months).

METHODS: Twelve-month healthcare utilization and costs were compared for chronic opioid users (n = 49,425) and, among chronic opioid users with urine drug-monitoring results (n = 2100), between adherent patients versus patients with evidence of nonadherence to their opioid regimen. Likely nonadherence was based on urine test results indicating absence of the prescribed drug, higher or lower than expected drug levels based on a proprietary algorithm, or presence of unprescribed or illegal drugs. The influence of nonadherence on total healthcare costs was assessed using multivariate models.

RESULTS: Prevalence of chronic opioid use was 1.3%. Chronic opioid users had significantly greater healthcare utilization and costs than matched nonusers ($23,049 vs $4975; P <.001). Adherent patients (n = 442) had lower total healthcare costs than likely nonadherent patients (n = 1658; $23,160 vs $26,433; P = .036). After adjustment for demographics, likely nonadherence was significantly associated with elevated total healthcare costs (cost ratio [CR] 1.136; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.00, 1.29; P = .048). When adjusting for other types of nonadherence, the presence of higher than expected levels of the prescribed opioid was associated with significantly elevated costs (CR 1.121; 95% CI 1.01, 1.25; P = .039).

CONCLUSION: Chronic opioid users represent a substantial cost burden relative to similar patients without evidence of chronic pain. Among likely nonadherent chronic opioid users, those with evidence of opioid overuse had significantly elevated healthcare costs.

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