Study Finds Risk of Accidents, Road Injuries Linked to Opioid Medications

People who take powerful opioid-based painkillers, like oxycodone and codeine, appear to face an increased risk of suffering injuries in a car accident or other type of road trauma, according to a new study.

A Canada-based study published online Monday in the journal Internal Medicine examined nearly 550,000 adult patients, ages 18 to 64 years of age.

Researchers found a patient’s risk of experiencing road trauma increased based on the dosage of opioid medication they received. Patients taking high doses of opioid medication had a 42% increased risk of suffering injury in an auto accident, while patients who took moderate doses had a 29% risk.

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“Among drivers prescribed opioids, a significant relationship exists between drug dose and risk of road trauma, wrote Tara Gomes, who led the study at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto. “This association is distinct and does not appear with passengers, pedestrians, and others injured in road trauma.”

Of the half a million patients examined, 5,300 cases were found to involve road trauma and opioid medications. The study used an equal number of cases that did not involved opioid use, comparing for age, sex, risk of disease and prior road trauma indicators to use as the control.

In the population-based case-controlled study, patients received at least one publicly funded prescription for an opioid form of pain killer between April 1, 2003, through March 31, 2011. Cases were identified as having an emergency room visit related to road trauma.

According to the findings, patients who received low doses of opioid medications had a much lower risk of road trauma, a 21% chance, compared to the high-dose patients.

The study did not take into account whether other medications were taken which could affect alertness or mental acuity. Some slow release forms of opioid medications may affect patients more strongly or make them more unstable. Researchers also indicated that the period after a dose is increased also plays a critical role in how the opioid medication affects the patient.

This study follows recent public concern surrounding opioid abuse and overdose. Opioid pain killers have been under scrutiny in recent years due to increasing abuse problems. Recently, an advisory committee to the FDA voted against the approval of a new narcotic medication, Zohydro ER.

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