Background: Chronic pain constitutes a substantial socio-economic challenge but little is known about its actual cost.
Aim: To estimate the direct and indirect costs of patients with a diagnosis related to chronic pain (DRCP), to determine variation in these costs across different diagnosis groups, and to identify what resources constitute the most important components of costs.
Methods: Patient level data from three administrative registries in Västra Götalandsregionen in Sweden including inpatient and outpatient care, prescriptions, long-term sick-leaves, and early retirement were extracted. Patients with a DRCP between January 2004 and November 2009 were selected.
Results: In total, 840,000 patients with a DRCP were identified. The mean total costs per patient and year were estimated at 6400 EUR but were higher for patients with cancer (10,400 EUR). Patients on analgesic drugs had more than twice as high costs as patients without analgesic drugs, on average. Indirect costs (sick-leaves and early retirement) constituted the largest cost component (59%) followed by outpatient (21%) and inpatient care (14%), whereas analgesic drug prescriptions constituted less than 1 percent of the total.
Conclusions: The socio-economic burden of patients with a diagnosis related to chronic pain amounts to 32 billion EUR per year, when findings from Västra Götalandsregionen are extrapolated to the whole of Sweden. This compares to a fifth of the total Swedish tax burden in 2007 or about a tenth of Swedish GDP. This study does not provide evidence on what costs are caused by chronic pain per se. However, the higher costs of patients on analgesic drugs might indicate that the consequences of pain are of major importance.
© 2011 European Federation of International Association for the Study of Pain Chapters.