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Concomitant use of opioid medications with triptans or serotonergic antidepressants in US office-based physician visits

Authors Molina KC, Fairman KA, Sclar DA

Received 7 September 2017

Accepted for publication 23 February 2018

Published 3 May 2018 Volume 2018:10 Pages 37—43


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Rajender R Aparasu

Kyle C Molina, Kathleen A Fairman, David A Sclar

Department of Pharmacy Practice, Midwestern University College of Pharmacy–Glendale, Glendale, AZ, USA

Background: Opioids are not recommended for routine treatment of migraine because their benefits are outweighed by risks of medication overuse headache and abuse/dependence. A March 2016 US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety communication warned of the risk of serotonin syndrome from using opioids concomitantly with 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor agonists (triptans) or serotonergic antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Epidemiological information about co-prescribing of these medications is limited. The objective of this study was to estimate the nationwide prevalence of co-prescribing of an opioid with a serotonergic antidepressant and/or triptan in US office-based physician visits made by 1) all patients and 2) patients diagnosed with migraine.
Methods: National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) data were obtained for 2013 and 2014. Physician office visits that included the new or continued prescribing of ≥1 opioid medication with a triptan or an SSRI/SNRI were identified. Co-prescribed opioids were stratified by agent to determine the proportion of co-prescriptions with opioids posing a higher risk of serotonergic agonism (meperidine, tapentadol, and tramadol).
Results: Of an annualized mean 903.6 million office-based physician visits in 2013–2014, 17.7 million (2.0% of all US visits) resulted in the prescribing of ≥1 opioid medication with a triptan or an SSRI/SNRI. Opioid–SSRI/SNRI was co-prescribed in 16,044,721 visits, while opioid–triptan was co-prescribed in 1,622,827 visits. One-fifth of opioid co-prescribing was attributable to higher-risk opioids, predominantly tramadol (18.6% of opioid–SSRI/SNRI, 21.8% of opioid–triptan). Of 7,672,193 visits for patients diagnosed with migraine, 16.3% included opioid prescribing and 2.0% included co-prescribed opioid–triptan.
Conclusion: During a period approximately 2 years prior to an FDA warning about the risk of serotonin syndrome from opioid–SSRI/SNRI or opioid–triptan co-prescribing, use of these combinations was common in the USA. Studies on prescribing patterns following the March 2016 warning, and on the risk of serotonin syndrome associated with these co-prescriptions, are needed.

Keywords: serotonin syndrome, medication safety, FDA adverse event reporting system, SNRI, SSRI

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