An accurate assessment of drug safety or effectiveness in pharmaco-epidemiology requires defining an etiologically correct time-varying exposure model, which specifies how previous drug use affects the hazard of the event of interest. An additional challenge is to account for the multitude of mutually exclusive events that may be associated with the use of a given drug. To simultaneously address both challenges, we develop, and validate in simulations, a new approach that combines flexible modeling of the cumulative effects of time-varying exposures with competing risks methodology to separate the effects of the same drug exposure on different outcomes. To account for the dosage, duration and timing of past exposures, we rely on a spline-based weighted cumulative exposure modeling. We also propose likelihood ratio tests to test if the cumulative effects of past exposure on the hazards of the competing events are the same or different. Simulation results indicate that the estimated event-specific weight functions are reasonably accurate, and that the proposed tests have acceptable type I error rate and power. In real-life application, the proposed method indicated that recent use of antihypertensive drugs may reduce the risk of stroke but has no effect on the hazard of coronary heart disease events.
Keywords: Survival analysis; competing risks; pharmaco-epidemiology; simulations; time-dependent covariates.