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Opioid-related insurance claims rose more than 3,000 percent 2007 to 2014

Health insurance claims for people hooked on prescription painkillers and heroin skyrocketed as the number of Americans who fatally overdosed on those opioids hit record highs, a new analysis reveals.

The number of private health insurance claims related to opioid dependence diagnosis soared by 3,204 percent from 2007 to 2014, the analysis found.

The same analysis by Fair Health also found other disturbingly sharp spikes upward in the number of private insurance claims related to opioid abuse, drug dependence by pregnant women and heroin overdoses since 2011.

"The United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid dependence, abuse and overdose," notes the analysis by Fair Health, a nonprofit group that focuses on transparency in health-care costs and health insurance information.

The group also pointed out that "unlike earlier opioid abuse epidemics, the present crisis is disproportionately affecting white, middle-class people in nonurban settings, including those with private health insurance."

Source: FAIR Health

More than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose deaths in 2014, which was a record, and a prime reason that Congress in late July passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. CARA is aimed at supporting efforts to limit opioid addiction, increase treatment and recovery, and expand access to a drug, naloxone, that reverses opioid overdoses.

Fair Health's analysis is based on millions of claims filed by people who have insurance through their work or a private individual health plan.

Source: FAIR Health

The more than 3,000 percent increase, from 2007 to 2014, for opioid dependence, relates to people with symptoms that include needing to take more prescription painkillers or heroin to achieve the same effect, withdrawal "and repeated unsuccessful efforts to quit," Fair Health noted.

The vast majority of such claims, 69 percent, came from adults between the age of 19 and 35.

And "men in all age groups continue to be more likely than women to be diagnosed as opioid dependent," Fair Health's analysis said. For example, among 19- to 45-year-olds, 67 percent of claims for opioid dependence came from men; just 33 percent were from women.

However, the analysis found that gap shrank the older women got. Between the ages of 46 and 55 years, for example, 55 percent of opioid dependence claims were for men, and women comprised 45 percent of the claims.

Pregnancy drug dependence diagnoses, which includes dependence on opioids, increased by 511 percent during the same time period.

Opioid abuse, which is considered a less severe condition than opioid dependence, "is identified by such symptoms as continued use despite recurrent social problems caused or exacerbated by the substance," the analysis said.

Private insurance claims related to opioid abuse rose by 317 percent from 2007 to 2014, according to Fair Health.

And overdoses related to heroin rose 530 percent, the analysis found. The overwhelming majority of heroin overdoses occurred among people between the ages of 19 and 35.