Opioid addiction costs soar for employer-provided plans

The use of prescription opioids among people with employer-based health coverage has declined to its lowest levels in over a decade, but the cost of treating addiction and overdoses has increased sharply, according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

For individuals covered by an employer-sponsored health plan, the annual cost of treating opioid addiction and overdose—stemming from both prescription and illicit use—has increased more than eight-fold since 2004, from $0.3 billion to $2.6 billion in 2016. Most of the spending—53%—paid for the treatment of enrollees’ dependent children.

Average inpatient expenses for opioid addiction treatment totaled $16,104 per year in 2016, up from $5,809 in 2004.

General opioid trends among people with employer-based coverage:

  • Opioid use peaked in 2009, when 17.3% of large-employer plan enrollees had at least one opioid prescription during the year. By 2016, that number dropped to 13.6%.
  • Opioid prescription use is highest among older enrollees, with 22% of people age 55-64 having at least one opioid prescription in 2016.
  • Opioid use is higher in the South (16%) than in the Midwest (14%), West (12%) or the Northeast (11%).