Concerns about adverse outcomes associated with opioid analgesic prescription have led to major guideline and policy changes. Substantial uncertainty remains, however, regarding the association between opioid prescription initiation and increased risk of subsequent substance-related morbidity.
To examine the association of opioid initiation among adolescents and young adults with subsequent broadly defined substance-related morbidity.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This cohort study analyzed population-register data from January 1, 2007, to December 31, 2013, on Swedish individuals aged 13 to 29 years by January 1, 2013, who were naive to opioid prescription. To account for confounding, the analysis compared opioid prescription recipients with recipients of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as an active comparator, compared opioid-recipient twins and other multiple birth individuals with their nonrecipient co-multiple birth offspring (co-twin control), examined dental prescription as a specific indication, and included individual, parental, and socioeconomic covariates. Data were analyzed from March 30, 2019, to January 22, 2020.
Opioid prescription initiation, defined as first dispensed opioid analgesic prescription.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Substance-related morbidity, assessed as clinically diagnosed substance use disorder or overdose identified from inpatient or outpatient specialist records, substance use disorder or overdose cause of death, dispensed pharmacotherapy for alcohol use disorder, or conviction for substance-related crime.
Among the included cohort (n = 1 541 862; 793 933 male [51.5%]), 193 922 individuals initiated opioid therapy by December 31, 2013 (median age at initiation, 20.9 years [interquartile range, 18.2-23.6 years]). The active comparator design included 77 143 opioid recipients without preexisting substance-related morbidity and 229 461 nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug recipients. The adjusted cumulative incidence of substance-related morbidity within 5 years was 6.2% (95% CI, 5.9%-6.5%) for opioid recipients and 4.9% (95% CI, 4.8%-5.1%) for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug recipients (hazard ratio, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.23-1.35). The co-twin control design produced comparable results (3013 opioid recipients and 3107 nonrecipients; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.43; 95% CI, 1.02-2.01), as did restriction to analgesics prescribed for dental indications and additional sensitivity analyses.
Conclusions and Relevance
Among adolescents and young adults analyzed in this study, initial opioid prescription receipt was associated with an approximately 30% to 40% relative increase in risk of subsequent substance-related morbidity in multiple designs that adjusted for confounding. These findings suggest that this increase may be smaller than previously estimated in some other studies.