Patients coming off opioids 3 times more likely to die of later overdose, study finds

Patients who stop taking opioids for pain are three times more likely to die of an overdose in the ensuing years, according to a study published Aug. 29 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers studied 572 patients with chronic pain enrolled in the opioid registry of a primary care clinic at a Seattle safety-net hospital. They found 344 of the patients stopped opioid therapy and 187 continued to visit a primary care clinic. About 20.8 percent, or 119 patients, died during the study period. Twenty-one patients died of a definitive or possible overdose, and 17 of them had discontinued chronic opioid therapy. 

Stopping chronic opioid therapy was associated with increased mortality, the study's authors concluded.

"We are worried by these results, because they suggest that the policy recommendations intended to make opioid prescribing safer are not working as intended," said Jocelyn James, MD, the study's lead author and assistant professor of medicine at the Seattle-based University Washington School of Medicine.

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