By Pat Anson, Editor
Commonly prescribed painkillers such as opioids and gabapentinoids -- a class of pain medication that includes Lyrica and Neurontin – significantly raise the risk of obesity and high blood pressure, according to a large new study published in PLOS ONE.
British researchers analyzed health data on over 133,000 people, comparing the Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure and sleeping habits of patients taking pain relievers to those who did not. The study is believed to be the largest to look at the effects of painkillers on overall health.
“In the last two decades there has been a significant increase in the number of people being prescribed both opioid and non-opioid medications to treat chronic pain,” said lead author Sophie Cassidy, PhD, a research associate at the Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University. “We already know that opiates are dependency-forming but this study also found patients taking opiates have the worst health. Obesity rates are much higher and the patients reported sleeping poorly.”
Those taking opioids were 95% more likely to be obese, 82% more like to have a “very high” waist circumference and 63% more likely to have hypertension compared to the control group.
“There could be a number of possible mechanisms by which opioids might be associated with weight gain. Sedation might decrease physical activity and therefore reduce energy expenditure, those in our cohort taking opiates were less active, and those taking both opiates and other sedative drugs were the least active. Opioids have also been shown to alter taste perception with a craving for sugar and sweet foods described,” Cassidy wrote.
“These results add further weight to calls for these chronic pain medications to be prescribed for shorter periods.”
Patients who took gabapentinoids were also more likely to be obese, have a bigger waist and higher blood pressure compared to those not taking the drugs.
Gabapentinoids are commonly prescribed as alternatives to opioids to treat neuropathy, shingles and fibromyalgia, although many patients complain about side effects such as weight gain, depression and anxiety.
As PNN has reported, gabapentinoids are also coming under scrutiny because they are increasingly being abused. Lyrica (pregabalin) and Neurontin (gabapentin) are being reclassified as controlled “Class C” substances in the UK, following a spike in the number of deaths involving the medications.
Last week, the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy designated gabapentin as a “drug of concern,” after overdoses in the state involving gabapentin rose from 36 deaths in 2012 to 106 in 2016. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky have also reported increases in fatal overdoses involving gabapentin.