Organ pathologies detected post-mortem in patients receiving opioid agonist treatment for opioid use disorder: a nation-wide 2-year cross-sectional study

Addiction. 2022 Apr;117(4):977-985. doi: 10.1111/add.15705. Epub 2021 Nov 1.


Aims: To document organ pathologies detected post-mortem in patients receiving opioid agonist treatment for opioid use disorder and estimate the extent to which individual characteristics are associated with pulmonary, cardiovascular, hepatic or renal pathologies.

Design: Two-year cross-sectional nation-wide study.

Setting: Norway.

Participants: Among all 200 patients who died during opioid agonist treatment between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2015, 125 patients (63%) were autopsied. Among these, 122 patients (75% men) had available autopsy reports and were included. The mean age at the time of death was 48 years.

Measurements: Information on pulmonary, cardiovascular, hepatic and renal pathologies were retrieved from forensic or medical autopsy reports, with no (0) and yes (1) as outcome variables and age, sex and body mass index as covariates in logistic regression analyses.

Findings: Pathologies in several organs were common. Two-thirds (65%) of the decedents had more than two organ system diseases. The most common organ pathologies were chronic liver disease (84%), cardiovascular disease (68%) and pulmonary emphysema (41%). In bivariate analyses, only older age was associated with any pulmonary pathology [odds ratio (OR) = 1.06; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.01-1.10], cardiovascular pathology (OR = 1.11; 95% CI = 1.05-1.17) and renal pathology (OR = 1.05; 95% CI = 1.00-1.11). Older age remained independently associated with cardiovascular pathology (OR = 1.10; 95% CI = 1.04-1.16) and renal pathology (OR = 1.06; 95% CI = 1.01-1.12) adjusted for body mass index and sex.

Conclusions: Among autopsied Norwegians who died during opioid agonist treatment in 2014 and 2015, two-thirds had more than two organ system diseases, despite their mean age of 48 years at the time of death. Older age was independently associated with at least one cardiovascular or renal pathology after adjusting for sex and body mass index.

Keywords: Ageing; autopsy; buprenorphine; forensic; methadone; multi-morbidity; opioid substitution treatment; pathology; postmortem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Autopsy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / complications
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Analgesics, Opioid