Genome-wide association study of problematic opioid prescription use in 132,113 23andMe research participants of European ancestry

Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Nov;26(11):6209-6217. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01335-3. Epub 2021 Nov 2.


The growing prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD) constitutes an urgent health crisis. Ample evidence indicates that risk for OUD is heritable. As a surrogate (or proxy) for OUD, we explored the genetic basis of using prescription opioids 'not as prescribed'. We hypothesized that misuse of opiates might be a heritable risk factor for OUD. To test this hypothesis, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of problematic opioid use (POU) in 23andMe research participants of European ancestry (N = 132,113; 21% cases). We identified two genome-wide significant loci (rs3791033, an intronic variant of KDM4A; rs640561, an intergenic variant near LRRIQ3). POU showed positive genetic correlations with the two largest available GWAS of OUD and opioid dependence (rg = 0.64, 0.80, respectively). We also identified numerous additional genetic correlations with POU, including alcohol dependence (rg = 0.74), smoking initiation (rg = 0.63), pain relief medication intake (rg = 0.49), major depressive disorder (rg = 0.44), chronic pain (rg = 0.42), insomnia (rg = 0.39), and loneliness (rg = 0.28). Although POU was positively genetically correlated with risk-taking (rg = 0.38), conditioning POU on risk-taking did not substantially alter the magnitude or direction of these genetic correlations, suggesting that POU does not simply reflect a genetic tendency towards risky behavior. Lastly, we performed phenome- and lab-wide association analyses, which uncovered additional phenotypes that were associated with POU, including respiratory failure, insomnia, ischemic heart disease, and metabolic and blood-related biomarkers. We conclude that opioid misuse can be measured in population-based cohorts and provides a cost-effective complementary strategy for understanding the genetic basis of OUD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / drug therapy
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Jumonji Domain-Containing Histone Demethylases
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Prescriptions


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Jumonji Domain-Containing Histone Demethylases
  • KDM4A protein, human