The Link Between Opioid Overdose and Household Prescriptions

August 12, 2019
Tracey Walker
Tracey Walker

Individuals without their own prescriptions may be at risk for overdose if they have access to family members’ drugs, according to a new study

Individuals without their own prescriptions may be at risk for overdose if they have access to family members’ drugs, according to a new study.

Investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that, as compared to individuals with no family member prescriptions for opioids, those with at least one family member with an opioid prescription were nearly three-times more likely to experience an opioid overdose. Their findings were published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Joshua Gagne, PharmD, ScD, a pharmacoepidemiologist in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and colleagues, conducted a case-control study using insurance claims data. Among individuals with no opioid prescriptions of their own, the researchers compared frequency of family member opioid prescriptions between those with an emergency room visit or hospitalization for opioid overdose to those without such an event.

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The researchers found that results were consistent across age groups, including children aged 0 to 6 years. “We also found that the risk of overdose increased substantially with the total amount of opioids dispensed to family members,” he says.

“We frequently hear stories in the media about a child getting into a family member’s opioid prescription and experiencing an overdose,” Gagne says. “A previous, much smaller study in Canada looked at kids 10 years or younger and found that they were more likely to have an opioid overdose if their mother had been prescribed opioids. Our much bigger study considered other family members as sources of opioids and looked at the risk of overdose for kids as well as adolescents and adults.

“In the ongoing opioid crisis, much attention is focused on those who receive opioid prescriptions for themselves,” Gagne says. “Our study sheds even more light on these prescriptions being important risk factors for overdose for others in the household.”