Opioid overdose risk exacerbated by 10 factors, McMaster researcher finds in Hamilton

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Published November 1, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Li Wang McMaster opioid pain research
Li Wang, a McMaster researcher, identified 10 factors which make opioid overdose more likely. via McMaster University.

A McMaster University researcher has identified 1o major factors which heighten the risk of an overdose on prescription opioids.

The research was primarily conducted by Li Wang, an associate professor with McMaster’s Department of Anesthesia a researcher at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care.

“The opioid crisis has generated interest in identifying patients at higher risk of addiction or overdose and led to the development of several screening tools,” Wang says. “However, these instruments have either not been validated or shown poor validity and reliability,” Wang told McMaster.

Wang’s study found overdoses were between two and six times more likely with high-dose opioids, a fentanyl prescription, multiple opioid prescribers or pharmacies, a history of overdose, current substance use disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, other mental illness, or pancreatitis.

“Our findings suggest that awareness of, and attention to, several patient and prescription characteristics, may help reduce the risk of opioid overdose among people living with chronic pain,” Wang said.

Researchers studied the records of five major databases from around the world for all the risk factor data they could find. The records they used were dated up to October 2022. In all they found 28 applicable studies which included data on 24 million patients in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The data can be used to help the 20 per cent of the global population which suffers from chronic pain. The study indicates that around 27 per cent of people who suffer chronic pain treat it with opioids.

There were 5,360 deaths due to opioid overdose in Canada between January and September last year. The nation has been in the grip of an opioid epidemic for several years with rates of use and overdose climbing steady over much of the last decade.

Wang’s study notes that separating overdoses between legal prescription use and illicit use is “complex.” However, recent studies in Ontario found about one-third of people who died from an opioid overdose had an active prescription, and three-quarters had a prescription within the last three years of their lives.

Similar studies from British Columbia, an especially hard-hit province, show people with opioid prescriptions are eight times more likely to start injecting illicit opioids than people without.

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