From 2019 to 2021, proportion of patients with opioid and opioid-like drug overdoses increased in 42 states

FAIR Health

NEW YORK, NY—September 27, 2022—In every year of the period 2016-2021, males accounted for 62 to 63 percent of the gender distribution of patients with a substance use disorder diagnosis, while females made up 37 to 38 percent, according to a new white paper from FAIR Health. In every year of the same period, females accounted for 60 to 61 percent of the gender distribution of patients with an overdose diagnosis, while males made up 39 to 40 percent. The white paper, released today, is entitled A Comparison of Substance Use Disorders before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Study of Private Healthcare Claims.

In this report, drawing on the nation’s largest repository of private healthcare claims, FAIR Health analyzes substance use disorders and overdoses prior to the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to during the pandemic. Trends in the percentage of patients with a substance use disorder or overdose diagnosis are analyzed, as well as such aspects as age, gender, incidence, relevant substances, states, preexisting mental health conditions, venues of care and provider specialties.

Among the key findings:

  • From 2019 to 2021, 42 states saw an increase in the proportion of patients with opioid and opioid-like drug overdoses compared to the total number of patients using medical services by state. The increases ranged from 148.4 percent in Pennsylvania to 0.7 percent in Minnesota.
  • During the pandemic, the percentage of patients with a substance use disorder diagnosis decreased by 4.4 percent, from 3.5 percent of all patients in 2019 (pre-pandemic) to 3.4 percent in 2021 (during the pandemic). But in one age group, those 65 and older, the percentage of patients with a substance use disorder diagnosis increased 5.3 percent, from 3.3 percent of all patients in that age group in 2019 to 3.5 percent in 2021.
  • The percentage of patients with an overdose diagnosis increased 4.3 percent, from 0.56 percent of all patients in 2019 to 0.59 percent in 2021.
  • Alcohol and opioids were the top two substances associated with substance use disorders throughout the 2019-2021 time frame. Substance use disorders involving alcohol, however, increased over that period from 47 percent to 52 percent of the distribution, while opioids fell from 25 percent of the distribution to 21 percent.
  • From 2016 to 2021, the share of patients with substance use disorders involving the use of stimulants (e.g., amphetamines, methamphetamines) rose 36.4 percent, from 0.046 percent of all patients to 0.063 percent; this percentage increase exceeded those of alcohol, opioids and cannabis.
  • In 2021, the percentage of patients with an initial diagnosis of substance use disorder or overdose increased month over month compared to the two prior years.
  • In 2019 and 2021, New Mexico was the state with the highest proportion of patients with a substance use disorder or overdose diagnosis.
  • From 2019 to 2021, Nebraska was the state with the greatest increase in the proportion of patients with a substance use disorder diagnosis. Maryland was the state with the greatest increase in the proportion of patients with an overdose diagnosis.
  • Sixty-five percent of patients who had a substance use disorder or overdose diagnosis in 2021 had a preexisting mental health condition. Generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, in that order, were the two most common mental health diagnoses in this population in 2021.
  • The percentage of substance use disorder services rendered via telehealth rose from 0.3 percent in 2019 to 11.3 percent in 2020, then dropped to 9.3 percent in 2021.
  • Psychiatrists’ share of substance use disorder claim lines increased 112.4 percent, from 3.9 percent in 2016 to 8.3 percent in 2021.

FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd stated: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, substance use disorders and overdoses proved to be a significant public health issue. We hope our study of this issue offers helpful insights for patients, providers, payors, policy makers and researchers.”

This study is the latest in a series of FAIR Health studies on the COVID-19 pandemic. Others have examined projected US costs for COVID-19 patients requiring inpatient stays, the impact of the pandemic on hospitals and health systems, the impact on healthcare professionals, key characteristics of COVID-19 patients, the impact on the dental industry, risk factors for COVID-19 mortality, the impact on pediatric mental health, treatment and hospitalization costs, the evolution of telehealth during the pandemic, and post-COVID conditions before and after introduction of an ICD-10 code for such conditions.

The new study also builds upon a series of white papers released by FAIR Health involving substance use disorders, specifically opioid abuse and dependence. Previous entries in that series include:

For the new white paper, click here.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.