Researchers have found that long-term use of opioids is not associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
The research was part of Finland’s nationwide MEDALZ study, and the findings were published in the journal Pain Medicine under the title “Is Alzheimer’s Disease Associated with Previous Opioid Use?”
Opioid drugs work on the nervous system and are potent pain-relieving agents. The use of opioids has several undesirable effects, including drowsiness and reduced alertness. Moreover, long-term use of opioids can lead to addiction or tolerance to its pain-relieving action. As a consequence, the use of these medicines ideally should be restricted to the most severe cases of pain.
The study from the University of Eastern Finland was part of the Finland’s nationwide register-based MEDALZ study (Medicine use and Alzheimer’s disease).
MEDALZ included 70,718 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland from 2005 to 2011. In addition, 282,862 persons without the disease were included as control subjects in the study. The aim of MEDALZ is to investigate healthcare services and the effectiveness and changes in medication in Alzheimer’s disease treatment.
The average age of the patients’ in the nationwide register was 80.1 years, ranging from 34.5 to 104.6 years, and 65.2 percent of the patients were women. In general, length of follow-up after Alzheimer’s diagnosis was 3.1 years.
To determine if the use of opioids increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, researchers compared the duration of use, cumulative dose and opioid use, between persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the control subjects without the disease.
The authors did not find any link between opioid use and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Neither longer duration of use nor high cumulative doses increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
According to a press release, “the study is the most extensive one conducted on the topic so far.”
Previously, a U.S. study found an association between high cumulative doses of opioids and an increased risk of dementia. The Finnish study, however, does not confirm this finding.
“Although opioid use was not associated with an increased risk of AD, further studies should be performed to assess the safety of long-term opioid use in terms of other cognitive effects,” the researchers wrote.