November 18, 2016
According to a recent study, about 7% of those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) use opioids for non-cancer pain for a period longer than 6 months; long-term use was mostly associated with transdermal opioid patches.
Long-term opioid use is a problematic practice for non-cancer pain. Evidence of its benefits is limited, and the risk of adverse effects is increased compared to short-term treatment. Further, research on the benefits and adverse effects of long-term opioid use is very scarce among older adults and especially those with dementia.
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Sirpa Hartikainen, MD, PhD, and colleagues (University of Eastern Finland) utilized the medication use and Alzheimer’s disease (MEDALZ) cohort study comprised of all community-dwelling persons diagnosed with AD in Finland during 2005-2011 and their matched comparison persons without AD.
After exclusion of persons with active cancer treatment, 62,074 persons with and 62,074 persons without AD were included in this study. The use of opioids was studied from the date of AD diagnosis until death or admission into a long-term care facility.
The researchers found that long-term use of opioids was approximately as common among persons with AD as it was among those without it. However, long-term use of transdermal patches was twice as common among persons with AD, while tablet form opioids were more common among those without AD. In addition, long-term opioid use together with benzodiazepines was common, which is worrying as both medicines cause drowsiness.—Amanda Del Signore