According to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center study, opioid users have a significantly increased risk of infections severe enough to require treatment at the hospital, such as pneumonia and meningitis, as compared to people who don’t use opioids. People who use opioids have higher risk of invasive pneumococcal diseases.
Invasive pneumococcal diseases are serious infections caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, with mortality ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent. These invasive diseases include a range of illnesses such as meningitis, bacteremia and invasive pneumonia.
The association between opioid use and the risk of invasive pneumococcal diseases was strongest for opioids used at high doses, those classified as high potency and long-acting, which would be the extended release or controlled release formulations,” said lead author Andrew Wiese, PhD, MPH, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Opioids previously described as immunosuppressive in prior experimental studies conducted in animals, had the strongest association with invasive pneumococcal diseases in humans, measuring daily prescription opioid exposure for each study individual and combined that information with Active Bacterial Core (ABC) surveillance system data, which is a VUMC laboratory and population-based surveillance system conducted in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health and the CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor invasive infectious diseases in Tennessee.
The increase in opioid use has led to an increased interest towards well-known and also previously under- recognized adverse effects associated with opioid use. Previous studies conducted in animal models had demonstrated that certain opioids can cause immunosuppression and render experimental animals susceptible to infections. However, the clinical implications of those observations in humans were unclear.