Link Discovered between Long-Term Opioid Use and Depression

Patients and practitioners should be aware that opioid analgesic use of longer than 30 days imposes risk of new-onset depression.” ~ Dr. Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D., Associate Professor for Family and Community Medicine, St. Louis University, co-author of “Prescription Opioid Duration, Dose, and Increased Risk of Depression in 3 Large Patient Populations

Just as it has elsewhere in the United States, prescription opioid painkiller abuse in Southern California has reached epidemic levels. In the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, and San Diego, opioid abuse was the sole or prohibiting cause of death in 47% of all drug-related deaths, according to five years’ worth of corner records.

One Leads to the Other

opioids on paper about addictionIn a new study published this week in the Annals of Family Medicine, data indicates that while opioids can improve a patient’s mood over the short term, long-term use increases the risk of developing new-onset depression.

In determining these findings, a huge cache of data was examined:

  • Information from the years 2000-2012
  • Records from approximately 120,000 patients
  • Henry Ford Health Systems, Baylor Scott & White Health, and the Veterans Health Administration were the sources
  • The age range was from 18 to 80 years old
  • All of the patients were new opioid users
  • None of the patients had a previous diagnosis of depression
  • Opioid drugs that were looked at in the study include pentazocine, oxymorphone, oxycodone, meperidine, levorphanol, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine, and morphine.

Different Facilities, Same Results

When the data was compiled and analyzed, a significant percentage of patients from each facility developed new-onset depression:

  • 12% of VHA patients
  • 11% of HFHS patients
  • 9% of BSWH patients

“Findings were remarkably consistent across the three healthcare systems, even though the systems have very different patient characteristics and demographics,” Dr. Scherrer continued.

It has long been known that chronic pain can lead to depression, but now there seems to be biological evidence that opioid use can be a causal factor, as well. Low testosterone and unwanted changes to neuroanatomy can result when prescription painkillers are used for over a month.

Why Is This Study so Important?

For people who are suffering from or at risk for addiction or other mental health disorders, there are two clear implications that must be gleaned.

  • First, although physicians prescribe opioids as a means to manage chronic pain – which can in itself cause depression – long-term use may well create or exacerbate depression.
  • Second, there is a complicated, reciprocal relationship between mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism and drug addiction.

Individuals suffering from untreated depression often attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, which inevitably leads to greater problems, including worsened depression and addiction.

This means that any patient who is prescribed opioid pain medication should acquaint themselves with the potential risk, and be prepared to discuss any concerns with their doctor. The discussion should include alternative options for pain management.

If you or a loved one have been prescribed prescription opioid medication and is experiencing symptoms of dependence and/or depression, contact San Diego’s leading outpatient addiction rehab program, Lasting Recovery.

When you talk to one of their trained and experienced staff members, you will learn that there are alternatives, there is hope, and regained sobriety is possible.

If you feel that you might have a substance use disorder, take our brief self quiz.

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