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Pneumococcal Infections Risks: Another Adverse Effect of Opioids?

Case Study Findings Confirm Earlier Experimental Results

A new study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center reports that opioid users are at greater risk for serious infections including pneumonia and meningitis vs individuals who do not use opioid medications. The risk for invasive pneumococcal diseases was found to be 1.62 times higher among the former population. Caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, these illnesses carry a mortality rate of some 5% to 20%, and frequently require hospitalization. Lead author Andrew Wiese, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral research fellow at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, summarized, “The association between opioid use and the risk of invasive pneumococcal diseases was strongest for opioids used at high doses, those classified as high potency and long-acting, which would be the extended release or controlled release formulations.” The findings were published last week in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The research team examined data from Tennessee Medicaid that tracked prescription opioid use among study subjects, and compared that to data from the Active Bacterial Core (ABC) surveillance system that monitors invasive infectious disease patterns in the state. The findings confirmed earlier results from experiments in animal models with respect to the association between opioid use and invasive infection. Senior author Carlos Grijalva, MD, MPH, commented, “Previous studies conducted in animal models had demonstrated that certain opioids can cause immunosuppression and render experimental animals susceptible to infections. However, the clinical implications of those observations in humans were unclear.” The authors suggest that the findings demonstrate the need for rigorous risk assessment and close monitoring of patients who are placed on opioid therapy.

Read more about the study.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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