The Economic Burden of Abuse of Prescription Opioids: A Systematic Literature Review from 2012 to 2017

Applied Health Economics and Health Policy. 2018 Oct;16(5):609-632


Abuse of prescription opioids [opioid use disorder (OUD), poisoning, and fatal and non-fatal overdose] is a public health and economic challenge that is associated with considerable morbidity and mortality in the USA and globally.


To systematically review and summarize the health economics literature published over the last 5 years that describes the economic burden of abuse of prescription opioids.


Findings from searches of databases including MEDLINE, Embase, and Cochrane CENTRAL as well as hand searches of multiple conference abstracts were screened against predefined inclusion criteria to identify studies reporting cost and healthcare resource utilization (HRU) data associated with abuse of prescription opioids.


A total of 49 unique studies were identified. Most of the studies examined direct costs and HRU, which were substantially higher for abusers of prescription opioids than non-abuser controls in several matched cohort analyses (US$20,343-US$28,718 vs US$9716-US$14,079 for mean direct combined annual healthcare costs reported in 6 studies). Although only a small number of studies reported indirect costs, these findings suggest a high societal burden related to productivity losses, absenteeism, morbidity, and mortality among those who abuse opioids. Studies of medication-assisted treatment demonstrated that factors such as adherence, dose, formulation (film or tablet), and relapse during treatment, were associated with direct costs and HRU among treated patients.


This systematic literature review shows that abuse of prescription opioids is characterized by substantial direct healthcare costs, medical utilization, and related societal costs. Future research should further investigate the indirect costs of opioid abuse.

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Reinhart M, Scarpati LM, Kirson NY, Patton C, Shak N, Erensen JG