Toronto, Ontario—Are patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) being prescribed too many opioids? A new study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology suggests that might be the case and sounds an alarm about overuse of the pain medications in chronic lung disease patients. Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital point out that opioids can negatively affect lung health by reducing breathing rates and volume, which can result in decreased blood oxygen levels and higher carbon dioxide levels. The study, based on records of more than 120,000 adults in Ontario age 66 and older with COPD, found that, between 2003 and 2012, 70% of those who were living in their own home and about 55% of those living in long-term care facilities received new opioid prescriptions. Researchers also report that the patients, especially those in long-term care, were potentially using opioids excessively, with multiple opioid prescriptions, early refills, and prescriptions that lasted more than 30 days.

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