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Association of obstructive sleep apnea and opioids use on adverse health outcomes: a population study of health administrative data

Kendzerska T, Gomes T, Malhotra A, Gershon AS, Povitz M, McIsaac DI, Aaron SD, Chung F, Bryson GL, Talarico R, Ahmed T, Godbout M, Tanuseputro P. PLoS One. 2022; 17(6):e0269112. Epub 2022 Jun 28. DOI:

Rationale — Despite the high prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and concurrent use of opioid therapy, no large-scale population studies have investigated whether opioid use and pre-existing OSA may interact synergistically to increase the risk of adverse health consequences. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted a retrospective cohort study using provincial health administrative data to evaluate whether the combined presence of opioid use and OSA increases the risk of adverse health consequences, such as mortality, hospitalizations, and emergency department (ED) visits; and if it does, whether this co-occurrence has synergistic clinical relevance.

Methods — We included all adults who underwent a diagnostic sleep study in Ontario, Canada, between 2013 and 2016. Individuals were considered exposed to opioids if they filled a prescription that overlapped with the date of their sleep study (Opioid+). Individuals with at least a 50% probability of having a diagnosis of moderate to severe OSA (OSA+) were identified using a previously externally validated case-ascertainment model. The primary outcome was all-cause mortality; secondary outcomes were all-cause or ischemic heart disease hospitalizations, all-cause ED visits, and motor vehicle collisions (MVC) requiring hospital or ED visit. We used multivariable Cox regression models to compare hazards between four mutually exclusive groups: (1) Opioid+ OSA+; (2) Opioid+ OSA-; (3) Opioid- OSA+, and (4) OSA- Opioid- (reference for comparison). Relative excess risks due to interaction (RERI) were calculated to test for additive interaction.

Results — Of 300,663 adults who underwent a sleep study, 15,713 (5.2%) were considered as Opioid+ and 128,351 (42.7%) as OSA+. Over a median of two years, 6,223 (2.1%) died from any cause. Regardless of OSA status, opioid use at the date of the sleep study was associated with an increased hazard for all-cause mortality with the greatest hazard associated with Opioid+ OSA- (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR]: 1.75, 95% CI 1.57–1.94), but not Opioid+ OSA+ (aHR: 1.14, 95% CI 1.02–1.27) as hypothesized. Regardless of OSA status, opioid use at the date of the sleep study was associated with an increased hazard for all secondary outcomes. Opioid+ OSA+ was associated with the greatest hazards of all-cause hospitalizations (aHR 1.55, 95% CI 1.49–1.61) and MVC (aHR of 1.39; 95% CI 1.09–1.77); however, no statistically significant synergistic effects were observed.

Conclusions — Adults referred for sleep disorder assessment who used opioids had a significantly increased hazard of adverse health outcomes than those who did not, regardless of whether they had a high probability of moderate to severe OSA. The use of opioids and OSA was associated with the greatest hazard of all-cause hospitalizations and MVC requiring hospital or ED visit. The interaction of opioids and OSA did not confer a synergistic risk for poor outcomes.

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