Among patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), opioid prescriptions tripled during a recent 20-year period, and heavy use of strong opioids was a significant predictor of all-cause mortality, according to a large cohort study reported in the April issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Because this study was retrospective, it could not establish causality, said Nicholas E. Burr, MD, of the University of Leeds (England) and his associates. But “[de]signing and conducting a large-scale randomized controlled trial may not be feasible,” they wrote. “Despite the limitations of observational data, population data sets may be the best method to investigate a potential effect.”
The gastrointestinal side effects of many analgesics complicate pain management for patients with IBD, who not only live with chronic abdominal pain but also can develop arthropathy-related musculoskeletal pain, chronic widespread pain, and fibromyalgia. In addition to the risk of narcotic bowel associated with opioid use in IBD, opioids can mask flares in IBD or can cause toxic dilatation if administered during acute flares, the researchers noted. Because few studies had examined opioid use in IBD, the investigators retrospectively studied 3,517 individuals with Crohn’s disease and 5,349 patients with ulcerative colitis from ResearchOne, a primary care electronic health records database that covers about 10% of patients in England. The data set excluded patients with indeterminate colitis or who underwent colectomy for ulcerative colitis.