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Association between opioid use disorder and palliative care: a cohort study using linked health administrative data in Ontario, Canada


Background — People with opioid use disorder (OUD) are at risk of premature death and can benefit from palliative care. We sought to compare palliative care provision for decedents with and without OUD.

Methods — We conducted a cohort study using health administrative databases in Ontario, Canada, to identify people who died between July 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2021. The exposure was OUD, defined as having emergency department visits, hospital admissions, or pharmacologic treatments suggestive of OUD within 3 years of death. Our primary outcome was receipt of 1 or more palliative care services during the last 90 days before death. Secondary outcomes included setting, initiation, and intensity of palliative care. We conducted a secondary analysis excluding sudden deaths (e.g., opioid toxicity, injury).

Results — Of 679 840 decedents, 11 200 (1.6%) had OUD. Compared with people without OUD, those with OUD died at a younger age and were more likely to live in neighbourhoods with high marginalization indices. We found people with OUD were less likely to receive palliative care at the end of their lives (adjusted relative risk [RR] 0.84, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.82–0.86), but this difference did not exist after excluding people who died suddenly (adjusted RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.96–1.01). People with OUD were less likely to receive palliative care in clinics and their homes regardless of cause of death.

Interpretation — Opioid use disorder can be a chronic, life-limiting illness, and people with OUD are less likely to receive palliative care in communities during the 90 days before death. Health care providers should receive training in palliative care and addiction medicine to support people with OUD.



Lau J, Scott MM, Everett K, Gomes T, Tanuseputro P, Jennings S, Bagnarol R, Zimmermann C, Isenberg SR. CMAJ. 2024;

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