Opium Study Raises Questions About Opium-Derived Painkillers

A new study that links opium use with serious health problems, including cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory problems, has implications for opium-derived painkillers such as morphine and codeine, CNN reports.

The study of more than 50,000 people in Iran found an 86 percent increased likelihood of death from major causes among those who used opium, even at modest levels. The researchers took into account factors such as poverty and cigarette smoking, which could affect the outcome. The article notes the study does not prove opium causes the increased risk of death, since it did not randomly assign participants to use opium or not.

Most opium users in the study did not begin taking the drug because of a pre-existing illness, the researchers reported in the British Medical Journal.

In an accompanying editorial, Irfan Dhalla, of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, noted other research has supported the conclusion that there is an increased risk of death from opioids apart from the chance of an accidental overdose. “For the management of chronic non-cancer pain, a better prescription may be caution,” Dhalla wrote.

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