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IMPORTANCE: Although tramadol is increasingly used to manage chronic noncancer pain, few safety studies have compared it with other opioids. OBJECTIVE: To assess the associations of tramadol, compared with codeine, with mortality and other adverse clinical outcomes as used in outpatient settings. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Retrospective, population-based, propensity score-matched cohort study using a primary care database with routinely collected medical records and pharmacy dispensations covering more than 80% of the population of Catalonia, Spain (≈6 million people). Patients 18 years or older with 1 or more year of available data and dispensation of tramadol or codeine (2007-2017) were included and followed up to December 31, 2017. EXPOSURES: New prescription dispensation of tramadol or codeine (no dispensation in the previous year). MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Outcomes studied were all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events, fractures, constipation, delirium, falls, opioid abuse/dependence, and sleep disorders within 1 year after the first dispensation. Absolute rate differences (ARDs) and hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals were calculated using cause-specific Cox models. RESULTS: Of the 1 093 064 patients with a tramadol or codeine dispensation during the study period (326 921 for tramadol, 762 492 for codeine, 3651 for both drugs concomitantly), a total of 368 960 patients (184 480 propensity score-matched pairs) were included after study exclusions and propensity score matching (mean age, 53.1 [SD, 16.1] years; 57.3% women). Compared with codeine, tramadol dispensation was significantly associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality (incidence, 13.00 vs 5.61 per 1000 person-years; HR, 2.31 [95% CI, 2.08-2.56]; ARD, 7.37 [95% CI, 6.09-8.78] per 1000 person-years), cardiovascular events (incidence, 10.03 vs 8.67 per 1000 person-years; HR, 1.15 [95% CI, 1.05-1.27]; ARD, 1.36 [95% CI, 0.45-2.36] per 1000 person-years), and fractures (incidence, 12.26 vs 8.13 per 1000 person-years; HR, 1.50 [95% CI, 1.37-1.65]; ARD, 4.10 [95% CI, 3.02-5.29] per 1000 person-years). No significant difference was observed for the risk of falls, delirium, constipation, opioid abuse/dependence, or sleep disorders. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this population-based cohort study, a new prescription dispensation of tramadol, compared with codeine, was significantly associated with a higher risk of subsequent all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events, and fractures, but there was no significant difference in the risk of constipation, delirium, falls, opioid abuse/dependence, or sleep disorders. The findings should be interpreted cautiously, given the potential for residual confounding.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1504 - 1515


Accidental Falls, Ambulatory Care, Analgesics, Opioid, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cause of Death, Codeine, Databases, Factual, Delirium, Drug Prescriptions, Female, Fractures, Bone, Humans, Incidence, Male, Middle Aged, Opioid-Related Disorders, Propensity Score, Proportional Hazards Models, Retrospective Studies, Sleep Wake Disorders, Tramadol