Men More Likely To Have Substance Abuse Disorder, Women More Likely To Overdose

FAIR Health analyzed privately insured patients over the last five years, noting the changes in substance abuse and overdose diagnoses.

A white paper published by FAIR Health on Sept. 27 sheds light on the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic trends of gender in association with substance abuse disorder and overdosing. “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,” the FAIR Health report stated in a press release. “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.”

The report, called “A Comparison of Substance Use Disorders before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Study of Private Healthcare Claims,” analyzed data from 42 states in the U.S. and ranged between 2016-2021.

The evidence shows that 62-63% of substance abuse diagnoses are male, vs. 37-38% are female. However, those who overdosed were 60-61% female, vs. 39-40% male.

In 2019 before the pandemic began, alcohol was the leading substance connected to substance abuse disorders at 47% (followed by opioids at 25% and cannabis at 10%). Reviewing the same categories in 2021 during the pandemic showed that alcohol accounted for 52% of substance abuse patients, with opioids at 21% and cannabis at 11%.

The percentage of patients who were diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder and were also found using a stimulant (such as amphetamines and methamphetamines) increased by 36.4%, from “0.046% of all patients to 0.063%)—which was more than those who consumed, alcohol, opioids, or cannabis.

Drug overdoses remained similar to previous years. In 2021, data showed patients as having overdosed on prescribed medications (48%), other drugs (35%), opioids and opioid-like drugs (5%), and other psychoactive drugs (6%).

In 2019, substance abuse disorder was found to be most prevalent in New Mexico (a high of 2.58%, out of all medical patients throughout the state), followed by Rhode Island, Florida, Alaska, and Massachusetts. At the time, the lowest states include the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Carolina.

Two years later, New Mexico still led the pack, along with the inclusion of Alaska and Massachusetts in the top 5 again, as well as the addition of North Dakota and Wisconsin. States with the lowest percentage of substance abuse disorder patients changed to include the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and South Carolina again, with Maine and Virginia contributing to the lowest five states.

Among all states, Nebraska was the one to have the greatest increase in the proportion of patients with a substance use disorder. Conversely, Maryland had the greatest increase in overdose diagnosis.

FAIR Health has conducted and written other reports about medical patients during the pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on hospitals and health systems, key characteristics of COVID-19 patients, the effect of the pandemic on the dental industry, and multiple other studies specifically relating to the opioid crisis.

Earlier this summer, a study showed that cannabis could be a “very promising” replacement for opioids. Based in South Africa, the study is analyzing patients who are currently taking opioids for pain management. Over the course of three months, patients will switch to medical cannabis (specifically the cultivars Tallyman, Exodus, and 9 Pounds Hammer). “We are currently recruiting patients, and data-capturing all the questionnaires and feedback from the patients for the live study,” said medical cannabis researcher Dr. Shiksha Gallow about the study. “It has been fairly slow. However, more options have been introduced in the live study as suggested by the patients in the pilot study. The pilot results of the study were very promising, as it showed 98% of the patients have some sort of pain relief from the cannabis.”

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