Of more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, two-thirds (67.8%) involved opioids.1 A recent study suggests that access to family members’ opioids might be a risk factor for overdose in people without their own prescriptions.2

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School set out to determine whether individuals with family members who had received opioid prescriptions were at increased risk for overdose. Their findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.2

The investigators looked at health utilization data from 2004 to 2015 from a large US-based insurance company. A total of 2303 individuals who had experienced an overdose were matched with 9212 controls. Both groups were restricted to individuals who had no prior opioid prescriptions.

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The researchers found that having a family member with an opioid prescription increased the risk of overdose nearly 3-fold. “In this analysis, opioid prescriptions to family members were associated with overdose among individuals who do not receive opioid prescriptions,” the authors concluded.

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The researchers noted that they could not confirm whether the overdoses were related to a family member’s prescription or drugs that were obtained illicitly. In addition, they were unable to determine whether family members lived in the same residence, which would have affected how easily the opioids were accessed.

The investigators hope their findings can inform preventive strategies for combating misuse of opioids. “Interventions may focus on expanding access to opioid antagonists, locking prescription opioids in the home, and providing greater patient education to limit fatal overdose among family members.”


  1. Opioid overdose: drug overdose deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated December 19, 2018. Accessed August 6, 2019.
  2. Khan NF, Bateman BT, Landon JE, Gagne JJ. Association of opioid overdose with opioid prescriptions to family members [published online June 24, 2019]. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.1064

This article originally appeared on Rheumatology Advisor