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Long Play: Opioid use rife in elder care in Finland

Long Play reported that the use of opioids to treat seniors' pain often did not conform to recommendations.

Vanhus pitää mehulasia kädessään.
The use of opioids is associated with the risk of addiction and other complications. Image: AOP

Opioids are being used extensively to relieve chronic pain in elderly patients in Finland, according to the investigative journalism organisation Long Play. The news outlet reported on Friday that use of the powerful pain medication has tripled in Finland over the past 10 years.

Long Play said that research does not support the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain. Rather, using opioids poses a high risk of addiction as well as serious complications.

LP journalist Anna Tommola wrote that data from national benefits agency Kela indicate that in most cases, the prescription of opioids for elders in care does not conform to usage recommendations.

In May, Kela sent a letter to thousands of doctors in Finland, who had prescribed powerful opioids for their patients to take for periods exceeding three months as a time.

"You can’t just slap a fentanyl patch on an incoherent old lady to calm her down," Helsinki University hospital pain clinic medical chief of staff Tarja Heiskanen said in a Long Play interview.

Fentanyl is an opioid that is around 100 times stronger than morphine. It and other opioids can be administered as a skin patch or transdermal patch, which are very easy to use and administer a controlled dose of the medication.

The news outlet reported strongest growth in the use of a powerful opioid known as oxycodone, commonly sold as Oxycontin as well as buprenorphine, often sold under the brand name Subutex.

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