Concurrent use of prescription gabapentinoids with opioids and risk for fall-related injury among older US Medicare beneficiaries with chronic noncancer pain: A population-based cohort study

PLoS Med. 2022 Mar 1;19(3):e1003921. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003921. eCollection 2022 Mar.


Background: Gabapentinoids are increasingly prescribed to manage chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) in older adults. When used concurrently with opioids, gabapentinoids may potentiate central nervous system (CNS) depression and increase the risks for fall. We aimed to investigate whether concurrent use of gabapentinoids with opioids compared with use of opioids alone is associated with an increased risk of fall-related injury among older adults with CNCP.

Methods and findings: We conducted a population-based cohort study using a 5% national sample of Medicare beneficiaries in the United States between 2011 and 2018. Study sample consisted of fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries aged ≥65 years with CNCP diagnosis who initiated opioids. We identified concurrent users with gabapentinoids and opioids days' supply overlapping for ≥1 day and designated first day of concurrency as the index date. We created 2 cohorts based on whether concurrent users initiated gabapentinoids on the day of opioid initiation (Cohort 1) or after opioid initiation (Cohort 2). Each concurrent user was matched to up to 4 opioid-only users on opioid initiation date and index date using risk set sampling. We followed patients from index date to first fall-related injury event ascertained using a validated claims-based algorithm, treatment discontinuation or switching, death, Medicare disenrollment, hospitalization or nursing home admission, or end of study, whichever occurred first. In each cohort, we used propensity score (PS) weighted Cox models to estimate the adjusted hazard ratios (aHRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of fall-related injury, adjusting for year of the index date, sociodemographics, types of chronic pain, comorbidities, frailty, polypharmacy, healthcare utilization, use of nonopioid medications, and opioid use on and before the index date. We identified 6,733 concurrent users and 27,092 matched opioid-only users in Cohort 1 and 5,709 concurrent users and 22,388 matched opioid-only users in Cohort 2. The incidence rate of fall-related injury was 24.5 per 100 person-years during follow-up (median, 9 days; interquartile range [IQR], 5 to 18 days) in Cohort 1 and was 18.0 per 100 person-years during follow-up (median, 9 days; IQR, 4 to 22 days) in Cohort 2. Concurrent users had similar risk of fall-related injury as opioid-only users in Cohort 1(aHR = 0.97, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.34, p = 0.874), but had higher risk for fall-related injury than opioid-only users in Cohort 2 (aHR = 1.69, 95% CI 1.17 to 2.44, p = 0.005). Limitations of this study included confounding due to unmeasured factors, unavailable information on gabapentinoids' indication, potential misclassification, and limited generalizability beyond older adults insured by Medicare FFS program.

Conclusions: In this sample of older Medicare beneficiaries with CNCP, initiating gabapentinoids and opioids simultaneously compared with initiating opioids only was not significantly associated with risk for fall-related injury. However, addition of gabapentinoids to an existing opioid regimen was associated with increased risks for fall. Mechanisms for the observed excess risk, whether pharmacological or because of channeling of combination therapy to high-risk patients, require further investigation. Clinicians should consider the risk-benefit of combination therapy when prescribing gabapentinoids concurrently with opioids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid* / adverse effects
  • Chronic Pain* / drug therapy
  • Chronic Pain* / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Prescriptions
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid