Taking prescription opioids could increase a patient’s risk of pneumonia, according to a new study.
The research, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, highlighted a ‘strong association’ between prescription opioids and the risk of invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), which can cause pneumonia.
This link was increased when looking at those currently taking opioids, where those with confirmed IPD were seen to take longer-acting, higher doses of higher potency.
These new findings follow the launch of a major Government review into prescription drug addiction and dependence, led by Public Health England, which is looking specifically at opioid pain medication.
An increase in opioid prescribing has been seen across England, with a recent study suggesting that GPs should add patients to a national registry of patients for high opioid use, in order to improve patient safety.
Alongside issues over misuse, addiction and dependency, some opioids, such as morphine and fentanyl, are also known to be immunosuppressants, meaning an increased risk of infection for patients who take them.
The nested case-control study aimed to test whether taking prescription opioids could increase a patient’s risk of IPD.
Using data from a medical aid program alongside state vital records and hospital discharge data, researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the US identified 1,233 case patients with IPD, all aged five years of older. They matched these to 24,399 control participants by diagnosis date, age, and county of residence.
Researchers noticed that more than 25% of case patients were current opioid users compared with just 14% of control patients.
Upon further analysis, they saw that just under 12% of the case group took long-duration opioids, 32% took a high-potency prescription and 29% took doses over 90 MME/d, compared with 7%, 23% and 23% respectively in the control group.
The paper said: ‘These findings should be considered when developing IPD prevention recommendations, including vaccination.
‘This previously unrecognised association between opioid use and IPD highlights the need for judicious use of opioid analgesics that considers both the benefits and risks of these medications.
‘Because the strongest associations were observed for opioids with certain characteristics, these findings should be considered when selecting opioid analgesics for pain management.’