Study links opioid use to increased risk of serious falls


A study led by researchers at UNSW Sydney has shed light on the concerning link between prescription opioid use and serious falls among adults, revealing important insights into the risks associated with these medications.

The study, conducted by scientists at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), examined data from 3.2 million people in New South Wales over a 16-year period. It focused on falls that resulted in emergency department visits, hospital admissions and even death, highlighting the severity of the issue.

Lead author and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Ria Hopkins emphasised that the risk of serious falls was significant across all age groups, with particularly heightened risk observed in individuals aged 85 years and older.

“Overall, one in 10 people in the cohort experienced a serious fall during the study period, with higher rates among periods of opioid use compared to periods of no opioid use,” Dr Hopkins explained. “Compared to younger adults (18-44 years), the risk of a serious fall was six times higher for people aged 85 years and over during periods of opioid use, after accounting for other medicines and factors which may increase the risk of falls.”

The study also pinpointed the first month following opioid initiation as a period of heightened risk for serious falls, particularly as the daily dose of opioids increased. This underscores the importance of closely monitoring patients during the initial stages of opioid treatment.

While concerns about opioid safety have long been recognised, this study provides new evidence that the risk of falls is not limited to older adults. Senior author Scientia Associate Professor Natasa Gisev emphasised the need for comprehensive fall prevention strategies targeting all adults prescribed opioids, regardless of age.

“Many falls are preventable, and whilst there is a large focus on interventions aimed at preventing falls among older adults, more work is needed to reduce the risk among younger adult populations,” she said.

The findings from the POPPY II study, which analysed data from individuals who initiated prescription opioids between 2003 and 2018, underscore the urgency of addressing the risks associated with opioid use and implementing effective fall prevention measures.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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