Prescription opioid exposures and adverse outcomes among older adults

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2016 May;25(5):539-44. doi: 10.1002/pds.3934. Epub 2015 Dec 13.


Purpose: A high prevalence of chronic pain and high rates of polypharmacy among older adults suggest that this age group may be particularly susceptible to unintentional misuse of prescription opioids. We examined recent trends in misuse of prescription opioids and associated medical outcomes among older-aged adults (60+ years) and compared the patterns with trends among younger-aged adults (20-59 years).

Methods: Linear regression trend analysis was used to analyze 57 681 misuse cases reported to participating US poison centers during 2006-2014.

Results: Population rates of misuse of prescription opioids were higher for older adults than for younger adults, and this disparity increased over time. Rates among the older ages increased each year, although the rate of increase slowed over time (p < 0.0001 for negative quadratic trend). In contrast, among the younger adults, there was a significant negative quadratic trend in population rates (p < 0.0001) with a rise in rates during 2006-2010 followed by a decline during 2011-2014. Rates of serious medical outcomes among the older ages followed an increasing linear trend (p < 0.0001); in contrast, rates among younger adults rose and fell during the period, with recent rates trending downward (p < 0.0001 for quadratic trend).

Conclusions: Recent increases in rates of misuse of prescription opioids and associated unfavorable medical outcomes among older adults have important implications as the USA undergoes a rapid expansion of its elderly population. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: United States; aging; epidemiology; opioids; pharmacoepidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / poisoning*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Poison Control Centers
  • Polypharmacy
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid