Researchers in Iran said the largest study on opium use and outcomes after bypass surgery has found that — in contrast to widely held beliefs — it is linked with more deaths and heart attacks.
The result of the research is published in the ‘European Journal of Preventive Cardiology,’ a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Opium is dried latex obtained from the seed capsules of the opium poppy ‘Papaver somniferum’.
Approximately 12 per cent of opium is made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal use and for illegal drug trade.
The two major ways of using the drug are smoking and dissolving it in tea and other drinks. Cardiac surgeons and cardiologists are concerned about advising patients to stop using opium after bypass surgery because of fears that withdrawal could induce heart attacks. Until now, there was no evidence that discontinuation of opium consumption after surgery was safe.
The study included 28,691 patients, who underwent bypass surgery between 2007 and 2016. The average age was 61 years and 73 per cent were men. The patients were divided into three groups according to opium use: never-users (82 per cent), continued use after surgery (13 per cent), and stopped after surgery (five per cent). Patients were followed-up for five years.
The researchers examined the association of post-operative opium use and the risks of death, heart attack, stroke, and repeat heart procedures. ‘Science Daily’ reported that the patients who continued their opium habit after bypass graft surgery had a 28 per cent higher risk of death and a 34 per cent raised likelihood of heart attack compared to never-users.
They also had a 25 per cent higher risk of a combined endpoint of adverse events (death, heart attack, stroke, and repeat procedures) compared to never-users. Study author, Dr. Farzad Masoudkabir said: “Taking our findings together with those of previous studies, there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that it is a falsehood that opium protects against heart disease and its risk factors.” Masoudkabir is from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran.
According to Masoudkabir: “Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have the highest prevalence of opium abuse due to their proximity to production. “In Iran, it is estimated that 8-16 per cent of the public use opium, but given the sensitivities around reporting, the true prevalence may be even higher.”
Another reason for opium’s popularity is the perception that it has health benefits. “There are traditional beliefs among the public and medical staff that opium lowers blood glucose, blood lipids and blood pressure and prevents heart attacks and diabetes.”