This month, The New York Times' Upshot series provided analysis on the potential cost savings associated with treating opiate dependent patients with maintenance therapies, such as methadone or buprenorphine. A graph in the article, "Dealing With Opioid Abuse Would Pay For Itself", shows that treating 50% of patients for opiate dependence with these medications would yield $2.7 billion in savings to society, a calculation that "includes both the cost of treatment and costs imposed on society (e.g. lost productivity, crime) by untreated addiction."
Why is maintenance treatment for opioid dependence underprovided despite the cost savings to society?
"One answer is that, though treatment works, its benefits are diffuse. A
great deal of the cost of treatment would be borne by insurers and
public health programs. But a great deal of the savings would be
captured by society at large (through a reduction in crime, for
Another reason is that maintenance therapy "is still misunderstood. Culturally, there’s a temptation to view dependency as a result of poor lifestyle choices, not as a chronic disease, and to view maintenance treatment as merely substituting one addiction for another."
"It’s clear that treatment for opioid dependency is underprovided for a variety of reasons, and that this, in turn, helps promote the growth in the problems dependency causes. But it’s also clear that those dependent on opioids aren’t the only victims. Because of the social costs the problem causes, many others are as well."
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