A new study has revealed that when people take opioids, they can alter the body’s natural detoxifying processes, potentially affecting how they feel, how they function and how they react to their body’s surroundings.
Researchers found that people taking opiates also have a greater risk of developing obesity and diabetes than people who are not taking opiate painkillers.
Dr Sarah O’Brien from the University of New South Wales in Sydney said: “It’s a real concern that the amount of painkillers being prescribed for opioid use is increasing and that there’s a lot of research going on in the area of opioid toxicity.”
Dr O’Brien said the finding could be due to the “lack of understanding” about the effects of opiates on the body, and suggested that there was a need for more research into the health effects of the drugs.
“If we could have a more nuanced understanding of how opiates affect the human body, then that would help us in the way that we can best manage and mitigate the risks,” she said.
Dr O-Brien’s study examined the health and wellbeing of 1,000 people aged between 19 and 78 who took up to 30 drugs in the past 12 months.
People who took opioids had a greater chance of developing depression, anxiety, diabetes, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and a host of other chronic health conditions.
The study found that for people who took opiates, the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes rose by 50 per cent and the risk for being diagnosed as having high blood pressure rose by 22 per cent.
For people who didn’t take opiates at all, the increased risk of diabetes and heart disease was less significant.
But the research found that even for people taking no opiates or less than 10 drugs, the overall risk of dying from heart disease and diabetes was significantly higher than it was for people on other opioids.
“The fact that people who use opioids are much more likely to die from heart failure and diabetes, the fact that there are a lot more people who have those risks than people on opioids, is really concerning,” Dr O’Dwyer said.
The researchers used a computer simulation model to examine the risk factors for chronic diseases and death for people in each age group, as well as for people aged over 60.
They found that if people took opioids regularly, the likelihood of developing chronic conditions rose dramatically.
“For people in the highest risk group, the odds of developing diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, heart attack and stroke were increased by nearly 60 per cent,” Dr McEvoy said.
“When they stopped taking opioids for six months they had reduced risk of these chronic diseases.”
Dr McEvox said the risk remained relatively stable at around one in 10 for people over 60, but that was still much higher than the risk associated with people who had not used opiates.
“We know that when you stop taking opiated drugs, you’re not getting the benefit of the drug,” he said.