Relapse Prevention is Your Best Bet

Substance use disorders a heavy financial cost on the healthcare system

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A new argument is being made asserting that continual treatment of addicts could actually lower their overall healthcare costs in the long run, despite the sometimes heavy cost of continual treatment.

A recent longitudinal study looked at the compared costs between patients with a substance use disorder who went to regular physician and therapy visits compared to those who did not.

In the long run, helping a patient maintain sobriety through continual care saved an average of $73 per month when later healthcare costs of ER visits and hospitalizations for recurrent substance abuse were measured

"Talk to your doctor about getting help for substance abuse."

Sujaya Parthasarathy, PhD, from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a healthcare provider group in Oakland, led a study to see whether continual care for substance use disorders (SUD) would be cost effective, and if spending money now to get and keep people sober would save money in the long run.

The research team looked at long-term healthcare costs for SUD patients first treated in 1994 and 1998 that were split into two groups: the continuing care model and the typical treat and release approach. Costs were calculated after nine years.

For the continuing care model, patients had to actively do three things: see a doctor on a regular basis, go to SUD treatment and see a psychiatrist or psychologist for treatment when needed.

When comparing the two groups, an average cost reduction per patient for the continual care group was $73 less per month than the other SUD patients.

Authors said, “[O]ur findings reinforce the importance of access to health care and development of interventions that optimize patients receiving those services and that may reduce costs to health systems.”

Cost reduction was primarily attributed to fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

SUD patients receiving treat and release care were three times more likely to be admitted to a hospital than patients in the continual care group.

“It is reasonable to assume that if regular contact with the health care system continues over time, as with other chronic diseases, critical events leading to ER or hospital events might be pre-empted, and relapsing patients identified and persuaded to readmit to treatment earlier.”

Healthcare economist Adam Powell, PhD, added, “This study illustrates that the highest quality care sometimes has the lowest overall cost. Patients play a role in reducing healthcare system costs and ensuring that they have positive outcomes.”

“In this observational study, all the patients involved had insurance that provided access to Continuing Care, which is the standard of care. Patients and physicians that worked together, following this standard, both reduced costs and hospitalizations.”

This study was published in Medical Care, June 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 27, 2012
Last Updated:
November 27, 2012