Opioids and arthritic knees are a costly mix, new research claims.
"These data offer new evidence of the magnitude of the societal burden generated by opioid use and misuse, and could be used to educate healthcare providers and health policy decision makers on the best alternatives to opiate use," said lead investigator Elena Losina. She's a professor of orthopedic surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Using opioid painkillers to treat knee osteoarthritis goes against medical guidelines and carries a high cost to society, Losina's team found.
For the study, the investigators used a computer simulation to estimate how much opioids contribute to annual and lifetime knee arthritis-related costs in the United States.
The researchers concluded that 858,000 Americans use opioids such as tramadol and oxycodone for knee pain, which results in $14 billion in lifetime opioid-related societal costs, or nearly $0.5 billion a year.
The direct medical cost of knee arthritis treatment with opioids is nearly $7.5 billion, which is 53% of lifetime costs.
The remaining 47% of lifetime costs to society are due to lost productivity at work, criminal justice expenses associated with opioid use disorders among patients with arthritic knees, and illicit use of prescription opioids by non-patients, the researchers said.
For an individual patient who takes opioids to treat their knee arthritis, the estimated lifetime opioid-related cost is $13,770, according to the report published online recently in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
The findings show the importance of following guidelines that recommend against the use of opioid painkillers in patients with knee arthritis, the study authors said.
Given the large number of patients with arthritic knees using opioids, "our results provide additional evidence of the substantial economic burden of opioid use for knee osteoarthritis pain management and the potential savings from preventing opioid use," Losina said in a journal news release.
"The most important part of our study is that we estimated that almost half of the total societal cost of opioid use in persons with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis is used to pay for lost work productivity and criminal justice and other consequences of the diversion of prescribed opiates to unlawful use," Losina added.