Opioid use among older adults with COPD ups risk of death: Study

Opioid use among older adults with COPD ups risk of death: Study

The effects of opioids on physiological and psychological health of a person are already known. While American law enforcement agencies and health care providers are focusing on framing policies and guidelines to combat the opioid epidemic and on identifying potential reasons that lead people to use opioids, a recent study offers more reasons to dread opioids.

Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital recently revealed that older adults who are afflicted with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and use opioids are two times more likely to die from complications due to respiratory problems than non-opioid users.

The study, titled “Incident opioid drug use and adverse respiratory outcomes among older adults with COPD,” examined how opioid use among elderly COPD patients can affect their respiratory problems. The risk of death was found to increase five-fold for new opioid users as compared with non-users.

Three-quarters of older adults with COPD are prescribed opioids

For the study, published online in the European Respiratory Journal in July 2016, the authors observed records obtained from 130,000 adults aged 66 and more, living in Ontario. The details of the participants were obtained from provincial health care administrative databases at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

It was observed that nearly 68 percent patients suffering from COPD were handed over a new prescription between April 2007 and March 2012. The opioids prescribed by doctors included oxycodone, codeine and morphine for treatment of prolonged pain in muscles and bones, persistent cough and shortness of breath, for which inhaler therapy was already used, and symptoms of insomnia.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr. Nicholas Vozoris, a respirologist at the St. Michael’s Hospital, said, “Previous research has shown about three-quarters of older adults with COPD have been prescribed opioids, which is an incredibly high rate of new use in a population that is potentially more sensitive to narcotics. Our new findings show there are not only increased risks for respiratory-related death associated with new opioid use, but also increased risk, of visits to emergency rooms, hospitalizations and needing antibiotics or steroid pills.”

Opioids can lead to breathing problems

The findings are important as nearly 4-10 percent of the Canadian population suffers from COPD with the seriousness of the situation determining the mortality rate, which may go as high as 70 percent. For people suffering from acute COPD, the two-year mortality rate is approximately 50 percent.

Vozoris said, “This is a population that has a chronic lung disease, with symptoms that can sometimes be challenging to manage.” He said that though the use of opioids may offer a temporary relief to the patients, use of these drugs may also result in breathing problems, along with adverse impact on lungs in those with weak lungs.

Need to check increasing opioid prescriptions

It is important that doctors prescribe less powerful opioids or decrease the amount of prescription, especially for older adults. Vozoris, however, said that low dosage of opioids may not decrease the risks of respiratory complications and death. Patients usually take opioids to get immediate relief from their respiratory problems or pain, but little do they realize that their long-term use may lead to grave consequences. As a result, it is important to educate patients about the drastic effects of opioids and the potential risks they can have on their lung disorder.

The latest study stresses on the need to look for alternative therapeutic interventions for the treatment of pain, especially in patients suffering from respiratory problems.

Road to recovery

If you or your loved one is suffering from prescription drug abuse, the Florida Prescription Addiction Helpline can assist you in getting the best treatment solutions from prominent prescription drug rehabilitation facilities in Florida. Chat online with our representative or call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-292-3211 for more information on prescription drug treatment centers in Florida.


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