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Men more likely to die from high-dose opioid use for chronic pain, study finds


August 20, 2015
By Sheryl Ubelacker The Canadian Press

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A study suggests men taking opioids for chronic pain are twice as likely as women to escalate to a high dose and die from drug-related causes.

The study by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences examined the records of more than 285,000 Ontarians prescribed the powerful medications over a 13-year period.

Senior author Dr. David Juurlink says one in 45 men versus one in 70 women escalated their dose over time to more than 200 milligrams of morphine or its equivalent per day.

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Juurlink says patients whose opioid use snowballed were almost 24 times as likely to die as those who did not increase their daily dosage.

One out of every 350 men and one in every 850 women receiving chronic opioid therapy died as a result of taking one of the potent and dependency-creating narcotics.

More than one in every 10 patients prescribed opioids for the first time became chronic users.

Despite widespread use of opioids, the researchers say there is little evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of long-term therapy with the drugs to treat chronic pain, especially compared to other pain killers.

“These findings underscore the importance of thinking twice before embarking on chronic opioid therapy, and particularly high-dose therapy,” says Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacologyand toxicology at the University of Toronto.

“Physicians who opt to prescribe chronic opioid therapy should appreciate these risks and should ensure their patients understand them, too.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.