Study: Opioid Use High In Adults with COPD

Rates of new opioid use are high among older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), despite the dangers of sensitivity to side effects in this respiratory-vulnerable population.

“The amount of opioid use is concerning given this is an older population, and older adults are more sensitive to narcotic side effects,” explained Nicholas Vozoris, MD, an author of the study and respirologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, CA.

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In order to evaluate the scope and pattern of opioid use among this population, researchers evaluated records for 110,000 community-dwelling adults 66 years and older with COPD in Ontario, and 16,000 adults who live in long-term care homes.

Between 2003 and 2012, 70% of those who lived at home were given new opioid prescription, while 55% who lived in a long-term care facility received a new opioid prescription.

According to researchers, codeine, morphine, and other opioids like oxycodone could be prescribed as a “quick fix” among older adults to treat chronic muscle pain, insomnia, and breathlessness associated with their COPD.

Investigators noted that opioids could negatively impact lung health in this population by reducing breathing volume and rate, which affects blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

"This is a population that has chronic lung disease, and this drug class may also adversely affect breathing and lung health in people who already have chronically compromised lungs," said Dr. Vozoris.

“Patients and prescribers should reflect on the way narcotics are being used in this older and respiratory-vulnerable population,” said Dr. Vozoris. “They should be more careful about when narcotics are used and how they’re being used.”

The complete study is published in the October issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

-Michelle Canales Butcher

St. Michael’s. High opioid use in older people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease raises safety concerns. [press release]. October 2, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.