COVID-19 outcomes among adult patients treated with long-term opioid therapy for chronic non-cancer pain in the USA: a retrospective cohort study

Wen Jan Tuan, Hannah Spotts, Aleksandra E. Zgierska, Robert P. Lennon

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18 Scopus citations


Objective Patients treated with long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) are known to have compromised immune systems and respiratory function, both of which make them particularly susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The objective of this study was to assess the risk of developing severe clinical outcomes among COVID-19 non-cancer patients on LTOT, compared with those without LTOT. Design and data sources A retrospective cohort design using electronic health records in the TriNetX research database. Participants and setting 418 216 adults diagnosed with COVID-19 in January-December 2020 from 51 US healthcare organisations: 9558 in the LTOT and 408 658 in the control cohort. They did not have cancer diagnoses; only a small proportion might have been treated with opioid maintenance for opioid use disorder. Results Patient on LTOT had a higher risk ratio (RR) than control patients to visit an emergency department (RR 2.04, 95% CI 1.93 to 2.16) and be hospitalised (RR 2.91, 95% CI 2.69 to 3.15). Once admitted, LTOT patients were more likely to require intensive care (RR 3.65, 95% CI 3.10 to 4.29), mechanical ventilation (RR 3.47, 95% CI 2.89 to 4.15) and vasopressor support (RR 5.28, 95% CI 3.70 to 7.53) and die within 30 days (RR 1.96, 95% CI 1.67 to 2.30). The LTOT group also showed increased risk (RRs from 2.06 to 3.98, all significant to 95% CI) of more-severe infection (eg, cough, dyspnoea, fever, hypoxaemia, thrombocytopaenia and acute respiratory distress syndrome). Statistically significant differences in several laboratory results and other vital signs appeared clinically negligible. Conclusion COVID-19 patients on LTOT were at higher risk of increased morbidity, mortality and healthcare utilisation. Interventions to reduce the need for LTOT and to increase compliance with COVID-19 protective measures may improve outcomes and reduce healthcare cost in this population. Prospective studies need to confirm and refine these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere056436
JournalBMJ open
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 26 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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