Health Insurance Companies

The abuse of and addiction to opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers is a serious global problem that affects the health, social, and economic welfare of all societies.  It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide,1 with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin.2

The consequences of this abuse have been devastating and are on the rise.  For example, the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has soared in the United States, more than quadrupling since 1999.  There is also growing evidence to suggest a relationship between increased non-medical use of opioid analgesics and heroin abuse in the United States.3  

Health insurance companies are bearing significant costs due to rampant prescription medication abuse.  According to a 2007 report, the cost of prescription painkiller abuse for insurers is $72.5 billion. CNN Money has reported that most of the cost comes from treatment, in the form of visits to the emergency room, rehabilitation, and associated health problems.

Medicare and health insurance companies also pay for the costs of the drugs themselves. The coalition says the average “doctor shopper”—a person who goes from doctor to doctor collecting prescriptions for the same drugs—costs insurers between $10,000 and $15,000 per year.

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