Research Links Frequent Use Of Prescribed Opioids To Alzheimer’s Disease

With the incidence of Alzheimer’s on the rise, researchers are trying to understand how to mitigate the risk.   A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland may shed light on some important risk factors. The study revealed that concomitant use of sleeping pills and strong painkillers is common among people with Alzheimer’s disease.  Concomitant drugs are two or more drugs used or given at or almost at the same time (one after the other, on the same day, etc.).

Half Of All Alzheimer’s Sufferers Were Prolonged Users Of  Opioids

Alarmingly, one in five people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) who use a benzodiazepine are also concomitant users of an opioid. Concomitant use was more common in comparison persons, but those with AD used strong opioids more frequently. About half of all concomitant users were prolonged users whose use of these drugs had continued for more than three consecutive months.

Prolonged concomitant use was associated with lung diseases, osteoporosis and previous hip fracture. In addition, a history of substance abuse and previous long-term use of benzodiazepines were related to prolonged concomitant use. In these high-risk patient groups, concomitant use of opioids and benzodiazepines or related drugs may increase the risk of pneumonia, fractures and drug misuse.

Those With Alzheimer’s Were More Commonly On Prescribed Opioids Than Those Without

The most commonly used drug combination among persons with AD was a benzodiazepine and a weak opioid. While those without Alzheimer’s Disease most commonly used a benzodiazepine related Z-drug and a weak opioid. Those with AD were more commonly prescribed strong opioids than those without AD. The trend may be partly explained by the use of opioid patches that are more commonly used in individuals with AD.

University Lecturer Niina Karttunen from the University of Eastern Finland says, “Concomitant use of drugs that act on the central nervous system in an older population is concerning, as the use of these drugs has been associated with serious risks, especially in frail individuals with AD. Unnecessary co-use of these drugs should be avoided, as the benefits rarely outweigh the risks,”

The study was part of the nationwide register-based MEDALZ study that includes all persons with clinically verified diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in Finland during 2005–2011. The study included 70,718 persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Data on drug use was extracted from the Finnish Prescription Register. The study was conducted at the University of Eastern Finland and published in International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Research article citation: 

Karttunen N, Taipale H, Hamina A, Tanskanen A, Tiihonen J, Tolppanen AM, Hartikainen S. Concomitant use of benzodiazepines and opioids in community-dwelling older people with or without Alzheimer’s disease – A nationwide register-based study in Finland, published online October 29, 2018. DOI: 10.1002/gps.5018

Opioid use is often linked to depression, sleep issues and anxiety. Want to read about how to improve your endorphins and reduce anxiety?  click here