Treatment patterns, healthcare utilization, and costs of chronic opioid treatment for non-cancer pain in the United States

Am J Manag Care. 2015 Mar 1;21(3):e222-34.


Objectives: To evaluate treatment patterns, healthcare resource utilization, and costs among patients within a large managed care population chronically using opioids for non-cancer pain.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Methods: Patients aged ≥18 years with ≥1 prescription initiating opioids between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2011, who also had 12 months of continuous pre-index health plan enrollment, were identified. Patients with pre-index opioid use or cancer diagnosis were excluded. Opioid exposure was stratified by treatment duration-short-term (30-182 days) versus chronic (≥183 days)-and by index opioid type (weak vs strong).

Results: A total of 2.9 million patients initiating opioids were identified, of which 257,602 had at least 30 days of continuous use and were included in the study. The mean age was 51 years and 52% were female. Overall, 239,998 (93%) patients had short-term opioid use, and 17,604 (7%) had chronic use; 215,424 (84%) initiated treatment with a weak opioid, and 44,712 (17%) with a strong opioid. The specialty most associated with the use of less potent opioids was general/family practice (28%), and for more potent opioids it was surgery (22%). Large increases in health-care utilization were reported between the pre-index and first 6-month post initiation periods for chronic users. Utilization rates decreased after the first 6 months but never reverted to baseline levels. Costs mirrored utilization trends, more than doubling between baseline and the first 6 months of treatment for pharmacy ($2029 vs $4331) and all-cause medical ($11,430 vs $27,365). Costs declined after the first 6 months of opioid use but remained above pre-index levels.

Conclusions: These results demonstrated that healthcare resource utilization and costs increased during the first 6 months following clinical scenarios that necessitated opioid initiation and subsequently declined, suggesting the need to monitor patients beyond the acute care period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid