Blog | Addiction Recovery

Why Residential Treatment Works for Young People Addicted to Opiates

Young people who seek inpatient treatment at a facility that treats both substance use and mental health disorders not only reclaim their lives but they also save the health care system millions of dollars annually. That’s per new research published in Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work.

While most research looking at opioid addiction focuses on indigent populations, this sample of almost 1,000 volunteers all were patients in for-profit residential treatment centers specializing in treating dual diagnosis conditions. While it’s impossible to put a price on the lives that are saved in treatment facilities, concerns over the cost of treatment are very real. And the amount saved by helping someone find recovery from opiate addiction is staggering.

This new research by Siobhan Morse of Foundations Recovery Network, Brentwood, Tenn., and Samuel MacMaster, College of Social Work, University of Tennessee, Nashville, showed:

Among a sample of almost 800 patients, during the six months prior to receiving substance abuse and mental health treatment, they racked up nearly $800,000 in medical costs, $550,000 in substance abuse costs and $300,000 in mental health costs.

Six months after treatment, those costs totaled $600,000 combined. The costs were calculated using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health U.S. 2012 estimates. Average cost was $1,097 per emergency room/hospital visit.1

Medical Costs Just the Beginning: Recovery Leads to Saving and Savings

Young man sitting on couch talking to therapist with clipboard

The true cost of opioid addiction extends even beyond the dizzying medical expenses.

“The societal costs of opioid abuse, dependence and misuse include health care consumption, lost productivity and criminal justice costs and were estimated at $55.7 billion in 2007,” the authors wrote. “In a recent study conducted with university students, analgesic use predicted low quality of life scores in the emotional domain specifically higher levels of depression and less accomplishment due to emotional problems.”

In the six months prior to treatment, more than 120 of the patients in the Foundations Recovery Network study had reported visiting an emergency room for medical reasons. Eighty patients made a visit for mental health reasons, and more than 140 for reasons related to substance abuse. That’s a combined 340 visits.

After six months, the combined total was slashed to just more than 80 visits.

“Results suggest different strategies within treatment programs may provide benefit in targeting the disparate needs of younger opiate users,” the authors reported. “Overall, however, results suggest that individualized treatment within a standard, abstinence-based, residential treatment motel can be effective across opiate users at different ages and with different issues, levels of severity, and impairment at intake.”

Support, Supervision Help Young Opioid Users Stay Sober

Although young people who present for treatment (those 25 and under) are not as likely to have compounding health problems like older opiate users might, they tend to come in using the drugs more heavily.

“Opiate abuse is associated with higher risk of HIV, Hepatitis and premature death as well,” the authors wrote. “Hepatitis C incidence rates remain high, especially for young adults abusing injection drugs. A CDC study done in Massachusetts revealed that although declines were evidence among reported cases overall during 2002-2009, an increase was observed among cases in the 15 to 24 age group, representing an epidemic related to intravenous drug use among young adults.”

Many young opiate users who do agree to treatment often do so under the condition that it be outpatient treatment. While outpatient treatment works very well for some people, for others the structure of the inpatient environment guarantees at least a certain degree of sustained sobriety. A certain span of at least some sobriety is necessary for long-term recovery.

On the recovery community website Heroes in Recovery, Tara tells her story of how she finally got off opiates during 90 days of inpatient therapy.

“My treatment center ran a cognitive thinking program that taught me many things that I still use to this day,” she said. “Most importantly, it taught me that I am not hopeless, that I have a disease and that I deserve to live happily as long as I work for it.”2

Tara transitioned into a women’s sober living home after treatment and lived there for an additional six months. Maintaining structure and a strong support network can be critical to keeping young people recovery from opiates sober.


Sources1. Morse, S. et al. “Characteristics and Outcomes of Young Adult Opiate Users Receiving Residential Substance Abuse Treatment,” Aug. 2015. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work. Retrieved April 6, 2017.2. Tara. “My Story,” Dec. 27, 2013. Heroes in Recovery. Retrieved April 6, 2017.Written by David Heitz