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Types of prescription opioids have changed among older Nordic residents

A new study in a collaboration with researchers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, investigates the use of opioids for pain with registers of filled prescriptions maintained in all five countries.

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During 2009-2018, prescription opioid use has decreased slightly or remained stable among older adults in the Nordic countries, a new study from researchers at SERAF has found. However, the types of opioids have changed in all five countries, with lower potency opioids such as codeine and tramadol decreasing and higher potency opioids such as oxycodone increasing, leading to more intense treatment.

In the past decade, prescription opioid use for pain among older adults has been discussed to great length in the medical field. Treatment with opioids needs to balance between good pain management and the possible adverse effects of these drugs, which are more common if the patient is older.

In a collaboration with researchers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, the new study investigated the use of opioids for pain with registers of filled prescriptions maintained in all five countries. Using these data, the researchers investigated how the trends of opioids has changed in the previous decade among people aged 65 or older. They found that on average, 17% of older Nordic adults used an opioid at least once a year, with people in Iceland using opioids most often (approximately 30% of older Icelanders), and use decreasing in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. However, the intensity of the treatment increased in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, mainly because the use of weaker opioids decreased and stronger increased.

This study is one of very few to compare opioid use among older people across several nations. It underlines the need for good pain management, with close monitoring of potential adverse effects if opioids are prescribed. In a bigger picture, the increasing use of oxycodone and its consequences in this region needs to be followed up.

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Published May 27, 2022 9:25 AM - Last modified Nov. 8, 2022 11:57 AM