• BMJ · Nov 2021

    Prescription opioid treatment for non-cancer pain and initiation of injection drug use: large retrospective cohort study.

    • James Wilton, Younathan Abdia, Mei Chong, Mohammad Ehsanul Karim, Stanley Wong, Aaron MacInnes, Rob Balshaw, Bin Zhao, Tara Gomes, Amanda Yu, Maria Alvarez, Richard C Dart, Mel Krajden, Jane A Buxton, Naveed Z Janjua, and Roy Purssell.
    • British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
    • BMJ. 2021 Nov 18; 375: e066965.

    ObjectiveTo assess the association between long term prescription opioid treatment medically dispensed for non-cancer pain and the initiation of injection drug use (IDU) among individuals without a history of substance use.DesignRetrospective cohort study.SettingLarge administrative data source (containing information for about 1.7 million individuals tested for hepatitis C virus or HIV in British Columbia, Canada) with linkage to administrative health databases, including dispensations from community pharmacies.ParticipantsIndividuals age 11-65 years and without a history of substance use (except alcohol) at baseline.Main Outcome MeasuresEpisodes of prescription opioid use for non-cancer pain were identified based on drugs dispensed between 2000 and 2015. Episodes were classified by the increasing length and intensity of opioid use (acute (lasting <90 episode days), episodic (lasting ≥90 episode days; with <90 days' drug supply and/or <50% episode intensity), and chronic (lasting ≥90 episode days; with ≥90 days' drug supply and ≥50% episode intensity)). People with a chronic episode were matched 1:1:1:1 on socioeconomic variables to those with episodic or acute episodes and to those who were opioid naive. IDU initiation was identified by a validated administrative algorithm with high specificity. Cox models weighted by inverse probability of treatment weights assessed the association between opioid use category (chronic, episodic, acute, opioid naive) and IDU initiation.Results59 804 participants (14 951 people from each opioid use category) were included in the matched cohort, and followed for a median of 5.8 years. 1149 participants initiated IDU. Cumulative probability of IDU initiation at five years was highest for participants with chronic opioid use (4.0%), followed by those with episodic use (1.3%) and acute use (0.7%), and those who were opioid naive (0.4%). In the inverse probability of treatment weighted Cox model, risk of IDU initiation was 8.4 times higher for those with chronic opioid use versus those who were opioid naive (95% confidence interval 6.4 to 10.9). In a sensitivity analysis limited to individuals with a history of chronic pain, cumulative risk for those with chronic use (3.4% within five years) was lower than the primary results, but the relative risk was not (hazard ratio 9.7 (95% confidence interval 6.5 to 14.5)). IDU initiation was more frequent at higher opioid doses and younger ages.ConclusionsThe rate of IDU initiation among individuals who received chronic prescription opioid treatment for non-cancer pain was infrequent overall (3-4% within five years) but about eight times higher than among opioid naive individuals. These findings could have implications for strategies to prevent IDU initiation, but should not be used as a reason to support involuntary tapering or discontinuation of long term prescription opioid treatment.© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

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