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Journal of Hospital Medicine Publishes Novel Research on Opioid and Benzodiazepine Prescription for COVID-19 Patients

June 14, 2022

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First-of-Its-Kind Study Finds That Among Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19, 25% Were Exposed to Opioids and 10% to Benzodiazepines, Both of Which Can Suppress Respiration

The Journal of Hospital Medicine (JHM), the official peer-reviewed journal of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM), recently published novel research, “Opioid and Benzodiazepine Prescribing After COVID-19 Hospitalization,” authored by Lia D. Delaney, MD, MS, et al. This retrospective study includes data from 39 hospitals in Michigan and suggests that the relatively high rate of opioid and benzodiazepine use in patients hospitalized for COVID-19 could lead to in-hospital and post-discharge adverse events, and that clinicians should consider alternate treatments to prevent opioid-related harm.

“Given the known risk of respiratory depression from opioids, prescribing them to patients with respiratory illness a risky practice that could contribute to poor outcomes,” notes Shoshana J. Herzig, MD, MPH, Associate Chief of Hospital Medicine for Academic Affairs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA and Senior Deputy Editor of JHM. “Clinicians should weigh this important risk against any potential benefit in patients with COVID-19 and/or other respiratory disease before prescribing opioids and trial non-opioid approaches to managing pain before moving to opioid therapy.”

Opioids and benzodiazepines are two of the leading causes of adverse drug events, both during and after hospitalization. This is the first study to identify prescribing patterns of these two drug classes among hospitalized patients with COVID-19. In this cohort, almost 25 percent received an opioid, and more than 10 percent received a benzodiazepine.

“Among opioid-naïve non-critically ill adults hospitalized with COVID-19, receipt of opioids during hospitalization was, not surprisingly, associated with a four-fold greater odds of opioid prescription at discharge -- an important but potentially preventable risk factor for subsequent dependence,” adds Samir S. Shah, MD, MSCE, MHM, Editor-in-Chief of JHM.

While the study cautions against unnecessary prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines, it also states that the rates of exposure to these two drug classes in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are less than the rates in pre-COVID-19 hospitalized patients. This indicates that physicians have been more judicious in prescribing these two classes of drugs for COVID-19 patients. The authors recommend further studies to examine reasons for use of these medications in this patient population to identify risk reduction opportunities in patients with respiratory illness like COVID-19.

Read the full study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine here.

About the Journal of Hospital Medicine:

The Journal of Hospital Medicine (JHM) is the premier, ISI-indexed publication for the specialty of hospital medicine and official journal of the Society of Hospital Medicine. Published by Wiley, the journal advances excellence in hospital medicine as a defined specialty through the dissemination of research, evidence-based clinical care, and advocacy of safe, effective care for hospitalized patients.

For more information, please visit and follow the Journal of Hospital Medicine on Twitter @JHospMedicine.