The prevalence of asthma in opioid dependent patients appears to be greater than the national prevalence of asthma, and women may be disproportionately affected, according to research presented this week in San Francisco at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 

The findings were reported by analyzing secondary data of opioid-dependent adults, aged 18 to 79, receiving acute care at Kings County Hospital Center in New York City between 2013 and 2017. 

Researchers compared the national prevalence of asthma, which is 8.3% according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to asthma prevalence in a population of opioid dependent patients, which was around 17.2% in this study. While women are already more likely to have asthma (9.7% of women nationally compared to 6.9% of men), 25% of women with opioid dependence also had asthma in the study.  Previous research has found illicit opiates may exacerbate asthma. 

“While some studies have shown that opioid medication can help with cough and shortness of breath in heart disease and advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, other studies have shown that opioids such as heroin worsen asthma. We hypothesized that there is higher prevalence of asthma among patients with opioid dependence who are addicted or dependent on prescription pain killers or heroin,” said author Roshni Naik, MD.

On how patients currently taking opioids can limit asthma exacerbations, Dr. Naik said, “there is no current guideline on how to manage asthmatics on opioid medications. However, patients with severe asthma should follow up regularly with their primary care doctor or see an asthma specialist to maintain control of their asthma. Patients who are addicted to opioids should seek a healthcare provider in combating their addiction.”

Opioid dependence and overdose is a growing concern in the United States. Often prescribed as a strong pain killer, opioids are highly addictive. Patients prescribed opioids need to be aware not only of the dangers of opioid addiction, but additional health concerns that may surface due to opioid use.

Reference
Lee A, Naik R, Joks R. Prevalence of Asthma in Chronic Opioid Users Receiving Acute Care in an Inner City, Municipal New York Hospital. J All Clin Immunol. 2019;  143(2): Supplement, Page AB108.