Older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who start treatment with opioid painkillers are more likely to die from coronary artery disease-related problems than those who do not take opioids, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
The study backs up earlier research that has found there is an increased risk of respiratory death in people with COPD who recently started opioids compared to those who did not take the drugs. Opioids lower oxygen and raise carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can have a negative impact on the heart. For example, the drugs can increase inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to blockages and trigger a heart attack.
The study involved the evaluation of medical records of about 150,000 adults 66 years of age or older with COPD. About two-thirds were treated with a new opioid, such as morphine or fentanyl. The two powerful painkillers are often prescribed to patients with COPD to relieve chronic musculoskeletal pain, insomnia, persistent cough and shortness of breath.
Researchers found a 215 percent increase in coronary artery disease-related death in long-term care patients and 83 percent increase in patients who lived at home who had recently initiated opioid therapy.
The research comes a week after a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general across the country announced they were teaming up to investigate whether manufacturers of powerful opioids have engaged in unlawful practices to push sales of the drugs, contributing to the country’s growing opioid epidemic.