Opioid use among seniors with COPD raises concerns

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Older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are using opioids like codeine and morphine at a “remarkably high” rate, according to a new study in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Researchers looked at health records of more than 120,000 people over the age of 66 with COPD, and found an increasing number of seniors received new opioid prescriptions in recent years. Between 2003 and 2012, 55% of seniors living in long-term care facilities received an opiod prescription.

Those results show seniors with COPD are potentially using opioids excessively, meaning they received multiple prescriptions, early refills and prescriptions longer than 30 days, researchers said. The risk for excessive use is especially high for those in long-term care facilities, the study found.

"Sometimes patients are looking for what they think are quick fixes to chronic pain and chronic breathing problems, and physicians sometimes believe that narcotics may be a quick fix," lead researcher Nicholas Vozoris, M.D., said. "Patients and prescribers should reflect on the way narcotics are being used in this older and respiratory-vulnerable population.”