Long-acting opioids increase risk of death by 64%

Compared with other pain management drugs, long-acting opioids increase the risk of death from any cause by 64% and from a cardiovascular event by 65%.

Molecular structure of the opioid methadone

Although widely prescribed for chronic pain, long-acting opioids can cause unintentional overdose and may increase the risk of death from cardiovascular or respiratory causes. 

Researchers in the United States analysed medical data relating to 22,912 new prescriptions for long-acting opioids and the same number for other pain management drugs given to patients with moderate to severe non-cancer chronic pain. 

They found that patients prescribed long-acting opioids had a 64% increased risk of death for any reason and a 65% increased risk of death from a cardiovascular event compared with patients prescribed anticonvulsants or low doses of cyclic antidepressants. 

The researchers, writing in JAMA (online, 14 June 2016)[1]
, say these risks should be considered when making treatment decisions and that patients at risk of cardiovascular disease should potentially avoid long-lasting opioids.


[1] Ray WA, Chung CP, Murray KT et al. Prescription of long-acting opioids and mortality in patients with chronic noncancer pain. JAMA 2016;315:2415–2423. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.7789

Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, August 2016, Vol 8, No 8;8(8):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201316

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