A new study is raising safety concerns about the high rate of new opioid use among older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Findings have been published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Opioids may be prescribed for patients with COPD to treat chronic muscle pain, breathlessness and insomnia, however there is evidence to suggest that they may also reduce breathing rates and volume, which for patients with already compromised lung function can be problematic. Using multiple healthcare administrative databases, the researchers found that between 2003 and 2012, older adults with COPD, especially those living in long-term care homes, were potentially using opioids excessively (ie, multiple prescriptions, early refills, prescriptions for >30 days). Most of the opioid prescriptions were written by family physicians, with about 88% of the prescriptions being a mixture of opioids and non-opioids.

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

For more information visit StMichaelsHospital.com.