@HealthMed Opium is widely used internationally. A study from Iran just published in the British Medical Journal now reports almost doubling of mortality rates in regular users of opium.
Here are my comments to the Science Media Centre on this study:
"The key message in this prospective study on opiates is of interest to pharmacologists, health professionals and members of the public: use of recreational opium, whether raw or modified, smoked or swallowed, appears associated with increased risk of death from a wide range of diseases, including circulatory and respiratory disorders, and cancer.
"However the results need to be interpreted with caution. This work is from north-east Iran and may not be typical for other ethnically or genetically different individuals. The authors note that they cannot be sure whether the relationship is causative. And oddly, risks from opiates did not appear to be amplified in people with high blood pressure, smokers or diabetics, raising some questions about the accuracy of clinical data collection."
Although some commentators have linked findings of this study to use of medically prescribed or over the counter opiates, there are too many confounders for that to be a reasonable extrapolation from the BMJ study. Nonetheless the general principle remains that medicines should only be used when clinically indicated.
See more about the study and related comments on the New Zealand Science Media Centre site.