Seniors using opioids at higher risk of pneumonia, study finds

Opioids, a commonly prescribed class of pain relievers, are associated with a higher risk of pneumonia within the elderly, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The study, performed by researchers at Group Health Research Institute and the University of Washington, examined 3,061 adults aged 65 to 94. All subjects were living in the community, not hospitalized or in nursing homes, and the researchers excluded people whose immune systems were suppressed.

Researchers said opioids can decrease a person’s breathing rate and that they are also sedatives, “which can increase the risk of aspiration.”

Statistical analysis by the researchers showed that patients taking long-acting opioids such as sustained-release morphine were more than three times as likely to get pneumonia as those not taking opioids. Patients were also more likely to develop pneumonia during their first 14 days of opioid use.

Researchers said the findings provide a foundation for additional questions about the safety of opioid drugs in older Americans for future studies.

The study was partially funded by the National Institute on Aging, the Group Health Research Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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