Postinjury pain is a well-known debilitating complication of spinal cord injury (SCI), often resulting in long-term, high-dose opioid use with the potential for dependence. There is a gap in knowledge about the risk of opioid dependence and the associated health care utilization and cost in SCI.


To evaluate the association of SCI with postinjury opioid use and dependence and evaluate the effect of this opioid dependence on postinjury health care utilization.


Using the MarketScan Database, health care utilization claims data were queried to extract 7187 adults with traumatic SCI from 2000 to 2019. Factors associated with post-SCI opioid use and dependence, postinjury health care utilization, and payments were analyzed with generalized linear regression models.


After SCI, individuals were more likely to become opioid users or transition from nondependent to dependent users (negative change: 31%) than become nonusers or transition from dependent to nondependent users (positive change: 14%, p < .0001). Individuals who were opioid-dependent users pre-SCI had more than 30 times greater odds of becoming dependent after versus not (OR 34; 95% CI, 26–43). Dependent users after injury (regardless of prior use status) had 2 times higher utilization payments and 1.2 to 6 times more health care utilization than nonusers.


Opioid use and dependence were associated with high health care utilization and cost after SCI. Pre-SCI opioid users were more likely to remain users post-SCI and were heavier consumers of health care. Pre- and postopioid use history should be considered for treatment decision-making in all individuals with SCI.

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