Exposure to high-risk medications is associated with worse outcomes in older veterans with chronic pain

Una E. Makris, Mary Jo Pugh, Carlos A. Alvarez, Dan R. Berlowitz, Barbara J. Turner, KoKo Aung, Eric M. Mortensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Chronic pain is common, costly and leads to significant morbidity in older adults, yet there are limited data on medication safety. The authors sought to evaluate the association of incident high-risk medication in the elderly (HRME) with mortality, emergency department (ED) or hospital care among older adults with chronic pain. Methods: A retrospective Veterans Health Administration cohort study was conducted examining older veterans with chronic pain diagnoses and use of incident HRME (opioids, skeletal muscle relaxants, antihistamines and psychotropics). Outcomes evaluated included all-cause mortality, ED visits or inpatient hospital care. Descriptive statistics summarized variables for the overall cohort, the chronic pain cohort and those with and without HRME. Separate generalized linear mixed-effect regression models were used to examine the association of incident HRME on each outcome, controlling for potential confounders. Results: Among 1,807,404 veterans who received Department of Veterans Affairs care in 2005 to 2006, 584,066 (32.3%) had chronic pain; 45,945 veterans with chronic pain (7.9%) had incident HRME exposure. The strongest significant associations of incident HRME were for high-risk opioids with allcause hospitalizations (odds ratio [OR] 2.08, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.95-2.23), skeletal muscle relaxants with all-cause ED visits (OR 2.62, 95% CI 2.52-2.73) and mortality (OR 0.80, 95% CI 0.74-0.86), antihistamines with all-cause ED visits (OR 2.82 95% CI 2.72-2.95) and psychotropics with all-cause hospitalizations (OR 2.15, 95% CI 1.96-2.35). Conclusions: Our data indicate that incident HRME is associated with clinically important adverse outcomes in older veterans with chronic pain and highlight the importance of being judicious with prescribing certain classes of drugs in this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-285
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of the Medical Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015


  • Adverse drug outcomes
  • Aging
  • Chronic pain
  • Pharmacoepidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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