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Correlates of opioid use among Ontario long-term care residents and variation by pain frequency and intensity: a cross-sectional analysis

Iacono A, Campitelli MA, Bronskill SE, Hogan DB, Iaboni A, Maclagan LC, Gomes T, Tadrous M, Evans C, Gruneir A, Guan Q, Hadjistavropoulos T, Cotton C, Gill SS, Seitz DP, Ho J, Maxwell CJ. Drugs Aging. 2022; Aug 17 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Background — Chronic non-cancer pain is common among older residents of long-term care (LTC) homes and often poorly recognized and treated. With heightened concerns regarding opioid prescribing in recent years, it is important to examine the current prevalence of opioid use and its association with resident characteristics to help identify those potentially at risk of medication harms as well as suboptimal pain management.

Objectives — The aims were to estimate the prevalence and correlates of opioid use among non-palliative LTC residents and explore variation in opioid prevalence and correlates across strata defined by pain frequency and intensity.

Methods — We conducted a population-based cross-sectional study of all older (aged > 65 years) LTC residents (excluding those with cancer or receiving palliative care) in Ontario, Canada during 2018–2019. Health administrative databases were linked with standardized clinical assessment data to ascertain residents’ health and pain characteristics and their opioid and other medication use. Modified Poisson regression models estimated unadjusted and adjusted associations between residents’ characteristics and opioid use, overall and across strata capturing pain frequency and intensity.

Results — Among 75,020 eligible residents (mean age 85.1 years; 70% female), the prevalence of opioid use was 18.5% and pain was 29.4%. Opioid use ranged from 12.2% for residents with no current pain to 55.7% for those with severe pain. In adjusted models, residents newly admitted to LTC (adjusted risk ratio [aRR] = 0.60, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.57–0.62) and with moderate to severe cognitive impairment (aRR = 0.69, 95% CI 0.66–0.72) or dementia (aRR = 0.76, 95% CI 0.74–0.79) were significantly less likely to receive an opioid, whereas residents with select conditions (e.g., arthritis, aRR = 1.37, 95% CI 1.32–1.41) and concurrently using gabapentinoids (aRR = 1.80, 95% CI 1.74–1.86), benzodiazepines (aRR = 1.33, 95% CI 1.28–1.38), or antidepressants (aRR = 1.31, 95% CI 1.27–1.35) were significantly more likely to receive an opioid. The associations observed for residents newly admitted, with dementia, and concurrently using gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines, or antidepressants were largely consistent across all pain strata.

Conclusions — Our findings describe resident sub-groups at potentially higher risk of adverse health outcomes in relation to both opioid use and non-use. LTC clinical and policy changes informed by research are required to ensure the appropriate recognition and management of non-cancer pain in this setting.

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