There are more deaths in the US from opioids than from any other unintentional injury–one person died every 30 minutes from an opioid analgesic overdose in the US in 2014. The experience of living with opioid use is harmful both for the opioid user and for his or her spouse.
A recent study published in the journal Addiction quantified exactly how much opioid use and treatment affects quality of life for opioid users and their spouses. Led by Dr. Eve Wittenberg at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the study was a collaboration with two members of the CHERISH leadership, Dr. Brandon Aden and Dr. Bruce Schackman from Weill Cornell Medicine. The investigators surveyed over 2,000 individuals across the U.S. using a standard technique to assess quality of life for comparisons across different health conditions. Results showed that quality of life is poor for active opioid users and also for those in early treatment. Even during long-term treatment quality of life is still below that of a healthy person who has never misused opioids. Injection opioid users’ quality of life is worse than that of prescription opioid misusers’, and patients in methadone maintenance treatment have worse quality of life than patients treated with buprenorphine in doctors’ offices. The study is one of the first to also measure quality of life for spouses or partners of opioid users. Spouses’ quality of life was considered better than that of opioid users, but they still experience diminished quality of life when their partners were actively using opioids or were in the early stages of treatment.
These results are important because they allow comparisons of effects across health conditions. They provide a numerical value of quality of life that allows us to say which conditions have more or less effect on individuals’ quality of life, and therefore, which conditions have more “room” to improve health through effective treatment. These types of measures are often used in economic evaluations to explain the value derived from different treatments across different conditions.
As prescription opioid misuse and heroin use claims more lives, additional resources are being devoted to opioid use disorder treatment. In order to ensure these resources provide the greatest value, health economics research is needed to study the cost-effectiveness of treatment programs and of linking opioid dependent individuals to other healthcare and social services. The findings from this study will play an integral role informing future economic research related to opioid use disorder treatment and care linkage programs.