Influence of Ethanol on Oxycodone-induced Respiratory Depression: A Dose-escalating Study in Young and Elderly Individuals

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Background:Respiratory depression is a potentially fatal complication of opioid use, which may be exacerbated by simultaneous ethanol intake. In this three-way sequential crossover dose-escalating study, the influence of coadministration of oral oxycodone and intravenous ethanol was assessed on resting ventilation, apneic events and the hypercapnic ventilatory response in healthy young and older volunteers.Methods:Twelve young (21 to 28 yr) and 12 elderly (66 to 77 yr) opioid-naive participants ingested one 20 mg oxycodone tablet combined with an intravenous infusion of 0, 0.5, or 1 g/l ethanol. Resting respiratory variables and the primary outcome, minute ventilation at isohypercapnia (end-tidal partial pressure of carbon dioxide of 55 mmHg or VE55), were obtained at regular intervals during treatment.Results:Oxycodone reduced baseline minute ventilation by 28% (P < 0.001 vs. control). Ethanol caused a further decrease of oxycodone-induced respiratory depression by another 19% at 1 g/l ethanol plus oxycodone (P < 0.01 vs. oxycodone). Ethanol combined with oxycodone caused a significant increase in the number of apneic events measured in a 6-min window with a median (range) increase from 1 (0 to 3) at 0 g/l ethanol to 1 (0 to 11) at 1 g/l ethanol (P < 0.01). Mean (95% CI) VE55 decreased from 33.4 (27.9 to 39.0) l/min (control) to 18.6 (15.6 to 21.6) l/min (oxycodone, P < 0.01 vs. control) and to 15.7 (12.7 to 18.6) l/min (oxycodone combined with ethanol, 1 g/l; P < 0.01 vs. oxycodone).Conclusions:Ethanol together with oxycodone causes greater ventilatory depression than either alone, the magnitude of which is clinically relevant. Elderly participants were more affected than younger volunteers.

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