The Prescription Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse

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Less than 5% of individuals who received an opioid prescription are abusers, but they account for 32% of total opioid prescriptions and 40% of opioid prescription spending, according to a new report.

A new report featuring new data and insights into the prescription painkiller crisis in America’s workforce has found that 32% of opioid prescriptions are being abused. The study further states a series of shocking facts. On an average, 4.5% of individuals who have received an opioid prescription are abusers and account for 32% of total opioid prescriptions and 40% of opioid prescription spending. The findings are explained in Castlight Health’s report titled The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce.

For this report, Castlight Health conducted research on opioid abuse based on aggregated reporting from medical and pharmacy-based claims. The study includes nearly 1 million Americans over the 5-year period from 2011-2015.

For the purposes of this analysis, opioid abuse was defined as meeting the following clinical guidelines: Receiving greater than a cumulative 90-day supply of opioids and receiving an opioid prescription from four or more providers over the 5-year period between 2011 and 2015.


The Great American Opioid Crisis

Some of the key findings of the report were:

  • Nearly 1 out of every 3 (32%) opioid prescriptions, which are subsidized by America’s employers, is being abused.
  • On average, 4.5% of Americans who have received a prescription for narcotic painkillers are opioid abusers. These individuals account for nearly one-third (32%) of total opioid prescriptions and 40% of opioid prescription spending.
  • Opioid abusers cost employers nearly twice as much ($19,450) in medical expenses on average annually as non-abusers ($10,853).

“The personal impact that opioid painkiller abuse takes on individuals, their friends, and family is absolutely tragic,” Kristin Torres Mowat, senior vice president of health plan and strategic data operations at Castlight Health, said in a statement. “This crisis is also having a significant impact on the nation’s employers, both in the form of direct and indirect costs. From higher spending on healthcare, to lost productivity, to the dangers associated with employees abusing medications in the workplace: these are aspects of the crisis that are too often overlooked in the current discussion.”

Additional findings were:

  • Baby boomers are 4 times more likely (7.4%) to abuse opioids than Millennials (2%)
  • Patients living in areas with lower incomes are twice as likely to abuse prescription painkillers as people living in high-income areas.
  • 22 out of the top 25 American cities for opioid abuse are primarily rural and located in Southern states.

Employer Engagement and Guidance

The CDC has called opioid abuse a public health crisis. Nearly 2 million Americans are abusing prescription opioids and more than 16,000 people died as a result in 2013. Economically, opioid abuse costs the US economy nearly $56 billion and employers lose an average of $10 billion annually from lost work and productivity alone.

Whether it’s guiding an employee away from unnecessary back surgery (and the resulting opioid prescriptions) or offering programs that provide access to opioid abuse treatment, the Castlight report notes that any effort to engage and connect with the employees could help avoid potentially abusive behavior.