Purpose of review
Glucocorticoids and opioids are longstanding, common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms. High-quality clinical trials have established that glucocorticoids improve outcomes in RA, but debate continues as to whether their benefits outweigh their risks. We reviewed recent studies on patterns of glucocorticoid and opioid prescribing in RA, and associated harms.
At present, a large proportion of RA patients remain on glucocorticoids and/or opioids long-term. Likelihood and risk of both glucocorticoid and opioid exposure vary across the population, and are influenced by provider factors. Opioids are also associated with delays in disease-modifying treatment initiation. Recent evidence increasingly demonstrates toxicity associated with even low-dose glucocorticoids (≤7.5 mg/day). Up to two-thirds of RA patients may be able to discontinue chronic low-dose glucocorticoids without flare or adrenal insufficiency. These new data have led to changes in clinical practice guidelines for glucocorticoid use in RA.
Although low-dose and short-term glucocorticoid use is extremely common and effective in RA management, increasing evidence of toxicity has led experts to begin recommending that such exposure be minimized. Despite a lack of data to suggest opioids improve RA disease activity, they are used commonly, continued long-term, and associated with delayed effective therapy.