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Hospital costs for substance use patients exceed $13B annually, study finds

Substance use disorder, including alcohol addiction, accounts for $13 billion in healthcare costs annually, a new study has found. Photo courtesy of Needpix/Pixabay
Substance use disorder, including alcohol addiction, accounts for $13 billion in healthcare costs annually, a new study has found. Photo courtesy of Needpix/Pixabay

March 5 (UPI) -- The diagnosis and treatment of substance use disorder, as well as the management of related health complications, including overdoses, results in more than $13 billion in medical costs annually, an analysis published Friday by JAMA Network Open found.

More than half of these costs -- $7.6 billion -- were tied to caring for patients with alcohol-related disorders, the data showed.

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Just over $2.2 billion was spent on treating patients with health issues related to opioid use, the researchers said.

Examples of opioids include "street" drugs such as heroin, as well as prescription pain medications used illegally or inappropriately, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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"U.S. hospitals are seeing a big increase in patients seeking acute treatment for substance use disorder -- for example, drug overdose -- as well as more patients seeking different services who have substance use disorder," study co-author Cora Peterson told UPI.

"Spending on effective prevention and treatment could be offset by cost-savings in hospital care," said Peterson, a senior health economist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Substance use disorder, or addiction, is a disease that affects a person's ability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication, including alcohol, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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For this study, Peterson and her colleagues analyzed data on healthcare utilization and costs for substance use disorder and related complications for 2017.

Of the nearly 125 million emergency room visits, about 4% were related to substance use disorder, the data showed.

In addition, of the almost 34 million hospital admissions reported that year, roughly 10% involved patients with the disorder, the researchers said.

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Although alcohol and opioid use accounted for most of the $13.2 billion in healthcare costs tied to these patients, those using stimulants, at $1.45 billion, and any form of cannabis, at $740 million, also accounted for much of the spending, according to the researchers.

"Hospitalization is a critical opportunity to engage patients at high risk for overdose," Peterson said.

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