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Health Center Today, April 22, 2010

Researchers Find Oral Medication Can Reduce Health Care Costs for Patients with Alcohol-Use Disorders

By Carolyn Pennington

Photo of Dr. Henry Kranzler

Dr. Henry Kranzler

Health Center researchers have found that oral naltrexone can reduce both alcohol- and non-alcohol-related health care costs for patients with alcohol-use disorders (AUDs). AUDs refer to both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence and affect nearly 9 percent of the American population. The cost to patients and society in general is overwhelming due to the numerous medical, psychiatric, family, legal, and work-related problems associated with the disorder.

"We found that, prior to the start of the study period, individuals treated with naltrexone had higher health care costs than the group with an alcohol-related diagnosis but no naltrexone treatment," said Dr. Henry Kranzler, professor of psychiatry and the corresponding author for the study. "However, during the period after receiving the medication, the naltrexone group showed a significantly smaller increase in health care expenditures (both alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related) than the group with an alcohol-related diagnosis but no naltrexone treatment." In other words, oral naltrexone seemed to reduce health care costs for patients with an alcohol-related diagnosis.

Kranzler said these findings have implications for two groups. "I think that the greatest applications of these results are for health care policy makers, treatment-program managers, insurance companies, and health-benefits managers," he said. "They also show researchers that developments in treatment can pay dividends in cost savings."

Furthermore, he added, this study shows there is a common ground between effective treatment measures and cost-savings. "As a physician, I am interested in all treatments that can alleviate suffering and improve people's lives, however, I am also cognizant of the need to contain health care costs. This study suggests that an alcoholism treatment medication can help to contain health care costs and that wider consideration of the economic value of such approaches is warranted."

Results of the study will be published in the June 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.