Study Shows Narcotic Painkillers Increase Risk of Fractures in Elderly

From the New York Times:

A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found that elderly people who take narcotic-based drugs for pain face an elevate risk of bone fractures, heart attacks and death than those who take a non-narcotic pain reliever. In what is considered the first large-scale effort to examine the safety risks associated with narcotic pain relievers, researchers concluded that narcotics were more dangerous than non-narcotics, contrary to popular belief.

“Doctors should not assume that opioids are a safer alternative,” said Daniel H. Solomon, the study’s researcher, said in a telephone interview on Monday. “They seem to carry profound risks to cardiovascular system as well as increased risk fractures and appear to be associated with increased risk of death.”

In the study, Dr. Solomon examined Medicare recipients in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania who were examined after a six-year period to have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers divided those patients, most of whom were women with a mean age of 80 years, into three groups based on their pain medications – narcotic-based, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like Advil), and coxib drugs (Celebrex and Vioxx).

The researchers discovered that the overall risk of death was twice as high for patients taking narcotic painkillers, when compared to the other drugs. When digging into the details, the patients were found to be four times more likely to suffer a compound bone fracture, usually because of a fall, and they were twice as likely to have a heart attack. As if that weren’t bad enough, the study also found that the rate of gastrointestinal bleeding among patients taking narcotics was about the same as those taking drugs like Advil and Aleve.

Source: New York Times

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