OBJECT: The object of this study was to compare the cost-effectiveness of intrathecal drug therapy (IDT) with that of conventional pain therapy (CPT) in patients suffering from chronic low back pain caused by failed back syndrome. In this study, the authors tabulated actual costs, in Canadian dollars, in a consecutive series of patients undergoing IDT within the Canadian health care system and have compared them with costs in a control group in the same environment. The influence of these treatments on the quality of life (QOL) was also analyzed. METHODS: The authors report on a series of 67 patients suffering from failed back syndrome, 23 of whom underwent implantation of a programmable drug delivery pump and 44 of whom acted as controls. Patients were followed for a 5-year period during which the investigators tabulated the actual costs incurred for diagnostic imaging, professional fees, implantation costs including hardware, nursing visits for maintenance of the pumps, alternative therapies, and hospitalization costs for breakthrough pain. From this data, cumulative costs for each group were calculated for a 5-year period. Patient responses on the Oswestry Pain Questionnaire were analyzed to assess the impact of treatment on QOL. The actual cumulative costs for IDT during a 5-year period were $29,410, as opposed to $38,000 for CPT. High initial costs of equipment required for IDT were recovered by 28 months. After this time point, managing patients with CPT became the more expensive treatment option for the remainder of the follow-up period. The Oswestry Disability Index showed a 27% improvement for patients in the IDT group, compared with a 12% improvement in the control group. CONCLUSIONS: In patients who respond to this treatment, IDT is cost effective in the long term despite high initial costs of implantable devices.