Opioids Linked to Higher Risk of Pneumonia in Older Adults

Risks highest for long-acting opioids and new use, says Group Health study

Opioids – a class of medicines commonly given for pain — were associated with a higher risk of pneumonia in a study of 3,061 adults, aged 65 to 94, e-published in advance of publication in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study from researchers at Group Health Research Institute and the University of Washington (UW) also found that benzodiazepines, which are drugs generally given for insomnia and anxiety, did not affect pneumonia risk.

“Pneumonia is a common infection that can have serious consequences in older adults,” said study leader Sascha Dublin, MD, Ph.D, a Group Health Research Institute assistant investigator and Group Health primary care physician.

“Opioids and benzodiazepines work in different ways, but both can decrease the breathing rate. Both are also sedatives, which can increase the risk of aspiration.” Aspiration is inhaling material (including saliva or food particles) from the mouth into the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia.

A 2009 study estimated that two million Americans Continue reading