Chronic pain: reducing costs through early implementation of adherence testing and recognition of opioid misuse

Bill H McCarberg
Postgraduate Medicine 2011, 123 (6): 132-9

OBJECTIVE: To review the literature on costs associated with chronic pain therapy and to identify key contributing factors. Also, to assess the potential cost-saving benefits of monitoring pain treatment adherence using urine drug tests (UDTs), emphasizing their use in opioid therapy.

RESULTS: Reduced productivity, compensation costs, and treatment of comorbid conditions related to chronic pain contribute to the substantial financial burden of chronic pain management in the United States. The growing use of opioids for chronic pain increases the risk for drug nonadherence and associated drug abuse, potential addiction, and aberrant drug-related behaviors (ADRBs). Treatment of drug abuse increases health care costs; opioid abusers are 25 times more likely to require hospitalization than nonopioid abusers. Early detection of patient nonadherence using UDTs could significantly reduce costs of chronic pain therapy by allowing the physician to identify and treat patients' ADRBs related to controlled substances and drug addiction and abuse problems. Adherence in chronic pain may be determined by point-of-care (POC) tests, and more sensitive laboratory urine tests employing gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with high-performance liquid chromatography tests (LUTs). Cost-benefit studies suggest that the cost of LUTs to optimize adherence may reduce costs associated with nonadherence, such as inpatient clinical care and patient self-release. Current estimates indicate that appropriate use of LUTs could produce decreases up to 14.8-fold in the cost of chronic pain therapy.

CONCLUSIONS: The cost benefits of UDTs can only be fully realized if physicians know how to define and detect various types of drug abuse, addiction, and diversion. Physicians should be educated on the proper implementation of POC tests and LUTs, and interpretation of adherence data. Early monitoring of drug adherence using POC tests and follow-up LUTs may provide substantial cost savings associated with health care issues incurred in nonadherent chronic pain patients, especially those taking opioid therapy.

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