Stopping opioid treatment raises suicide and overdose risk

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After stopping opioid treatment, patients are at greater risk of suicide or overdose death, a study recently published in The BMJ found, with a higher risk among those treated with opioids for a longer duration.

Researchers studied nearly 1.4 million patients in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system who had been prescribed outpatient opioid analgesic treatment from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2014. Researchers looked for a connection between stopping treatment, the length of treatment, and death from suicide or overdose.

Researchers found 32 percent of patients were treated of 30 days or less, 8.7 percent for 31 to 90 days, 22.7 percent for 91 to 400 days, and 36.6 percent for more than 400 days. The longer the treatment period, the higher the hazard ratio.

The incidence of stopping opioid treatment was 57.4 percent, and 2,887 patients died of suicide or overdose.

“A key take-home message is that addressing the opioid crisis requires us to move beyond solely focusing on opioids,” researchers wrote. “Factors associated with increased risk when patients are prescribed opioids are also associated with risk when opioids are no longer part of the patient’s treatment plan (e.g., mental health disorders, medical complexity, other medications).”

Starting opioid treatment also increased the risk for death, researchers said.

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