Common Opioid-Related Side Effects in Hospitalized Patients

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Many hospitalized patients who are given opioids during and after invasive medical procedures commonly experience moderate to severe opioid-related adverse events, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Surgery.

Researchers identified and analyzed the medical records of 135,379 patients who received treatment at 21 acute care hospitals that are part of Baylor Scott & White Health in Texas. From January 2013 through September 2015, all of the patients underwent a colorectal, general abdominal, obstetric/gynecological, orthopedic, spine, cardiac, cardiovascular or endoscopic procedure, and received opioids to treat their pain.

Among the 135,379 patients included in the study, 14,386 (10.6%) experienced at least one opioid-related adverse event. These patients received a higher dose of opioids for a longer period of time. Furthermore, 73% percent of patients experienced only one opioid-related adverse event. Most of the patients had at least one opioid-related adverse event that was considered either moderate (55.8%) or severe (37.3%).

Respiratory complications were the most common type of adverse events, including the need to be supported by a ventilator. Other common adverse events included ileus — which causes constipation and bloating — nausea and vomiting, confusion and delirium, a very slow heart rate (also known as bradycardia), and problematic skin conditions such as severe itching.

These reported adverse events were associated with “significantly worse patient outcomes, including increased inpatient mortality, greater likelihood of discharge to another care facility, prolonged length of stay, high cost of hospitalization, and higher rate of 30-day readmission.”

According to the researchers, those who experienced an opioid-related adverse event were almost 29 times more likely to die before ending their stay at the hospital, compared to those who took opioids without incident.

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