Opioid addiction rates have climbed by 500% since 2010, new study reports

by Eric Pearson

The rate of opioid addiction in the US has risen by 500% over the last seven years, according to a study conducted by the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. The study found that more than one in five Blue Cross Blue Shield customers filled at least one prescription for opioid painkillers in 2015.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield study data was based on an analysis of insurance claims by about 30 million of the company’s customers between 2010 and 2016. The study examined rates of opioid-use disorder among these patients. Opioid-use disorders include addiction either to prescription painkillers or to illegal narcotic drugs like heroin.

The new study comes at a time when deaths caused by opioid overdoses are skyrocketing in the U.S. According to data from the CDC, 91 patients in the U.S. die every day as a result of an overdose caused by prescription opioid drugs such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone, or illegal opioids such as heroin. The CDC reports that the number of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. has increased by 400% since 1999; deaths from prescription opioids have also increased by more than 400% during that same period.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield study found that how opioids were prescribed by doctors to their patients played a key role in whether patients became addicted or abused these drugs. Patients who received higher opioid doses or larger prescriptions were more likely to become addicted.

According to the study, patients who were prescribed high dose opioids for a short duration were 40-times more likely to abuse or become addicted to opioid drugs compared with patients who were prescribed low dose opioids for a short duration. Opioid-use disorders were also seven times more common for patients who were prescribed high dose opioids for a long duration compared with patients who received low dose opioids for a long duration.

Experts Point to Problems with Prescription and Treatment for Opioids

John Kelly, an addiction specialist at Harvard Medical School, said that the study data showed that the use of high-dose, long-term opioid prescriptions was still far too common. He said that closer monitoring of rates of high-dose opioid prescriptions were needed in order to help curb rates of abuse and addiction.

Kelly also pointed to the slower growth in the use of medications to treat opioid addiction compared to high-dose opioids as another problem that needs to be addressed. Between 2010 and 2016, the use of anti-addiction drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone rose by 65%, compared to the 493% increase in the rate of opioid addiction and abuse.

Kim Holland, a vice president at Blue Cross Blue Shield, said that a treatment infrastructure needs to be developed in order to help patients struggling with opioid addiction or abuse. According to the study, the rate at which patients were treated for problems with opioids varied depending on what part of the country they lived in. Patients in New England were more likely to receive treatment for opioid-use disorders than patients in the South or Midwest.

Opioid Overdose Victims May Qualify to File a Lawsuit

Opioid painkillers that are prescribed in excessive doses can lead to abuse, addiction, overdose, and even death. The aggressive promotion of opioid medications by the pharmaceutical industry has also played a role in the U.S. opioid epidemic. When complications ensue as a result of opioid overprescription, the doctor or hospital who prescribed these medications – or the drug company who sold them – may be at fault.

If you have lost a loved one to an overdose caused by opioid painkillers, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against company that manufactured the drug, or the doctor or hospital who prescribed the medication. The first step in taking legal action is to talk with an attorney who has the knowledge and experience to advise you of your legal rights and guide you through the first steps in filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have suffered overdoses or other complications from caused by prescription opioids. Our law firm has filed more lawsuits involving the fentanyl pain patch than all other law firms in the U.S. combined. Heygood, Orr & Pearson has also represented victims and families who were affected by complications from other opioid drugs, including Vicodin and hydrocodone, OxyContin and oxycodone, methadone, hydromorphone, and other medications.

If you or a loved one has suffered an overdose caused by opioid painkillers, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to learn whether you may be eligible to file a case. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few short questions to get started.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.