Opioid Use in Chronic Pain May Increase Death Risk

HealthDay News — Long-term users of opioids for the treatment of chronic noncancer pain have an increased risk of mortality, according to a study published in PAIN.

Ola Ekholm, from the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen, and colleagues examined the risk of death, development of cancer, and hospital inpatient admissions resulting from injuries and toxicity/poisoning among opioid users with chronic noncancer pain. Data were collected from 13,127 adults who were classified according to the presence/absence of chronic pain and long-term or short-term opioid use.

The researchers found that the risk of all-cause mortality was 1.72-fold higher for long-term opioid users than those without chronic pain. Compared with the background population, the risk of death was still increased for short-term opioid users (1.36; 95% confidence interval, 1.07 to 1.72) and in nonopioid users with chronic pain (1.39; 95% confidence interval, 1.22 to 1.59). No significant correlation was observed between long-term opioid use and cardiovascular and cancer mortality. Compared with individuals without chronic pain, opioid users had higher risks of injuries and toxicity/poisoning resulting in hospital inpatient admissions. There were no deaths caused by accidents or suicides among opioid users.

“In conclusion, this population-based cohort study demonstrated an increased risk of death associated with long-term opioid use, somewhat less with short-term use and chronic pain but not using opioids,” the authors write.

The work was supported by a grant from Trygfonden.


  1. Ekholm O et al. Pain. 2014; doi:10.1016/j.pain.2014.07.006.