New Study Finds High Opioid Abuse and Mental Health Disorders Are Linked

New Study Finds High Opioid Abuse and Mental Health Disorders Are LinkedAmerica’s opioid epidemic is steadily worsening, and new research suggests that people with mental illness are receiving more than half of all opioid prescriptions. There are currently 2.5 million Americans struggling with opioid addiction, and only a small fraction of them are receiving the treatment they need. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, more than 50 percent of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. are given to patients who suffer from depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

Mental illness and addiction are, in fact, quite common. In 2014, approximately 7.9 million adults in the United States suffered from co-occurring disorders, according to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The occurrence of pain and depression or pain and anxiety, for instance, is also very common. Therefore, making people with mood disorders more vulnerable to opioid abuse as they attempt to manage their diagnoses and chronic pain.

Researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the University of Michigan analyzed survey data from 2011 and 2013, which revealed that 19 percent (7.2 million) of the estimated 38.6 million Americans who suffer from depression and anxiety were given at least two painkiller prescriptions in one year – totaling some 60 million prescriptions annually.

The study also found that adults with depression and/or anxiety were more than three times as likely to use prescription painkillers (18.7 percent versus 5 percent, respectively). While some individuals with mood disorders do suffer from chronic pain, it may be more difficult for them to accurately describe their level of discomfort. This could be because the pain is worsened by the mental illness or because the person is not able to cope with that pain effectively.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Dr. Brian Sites, of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the senior author of the study, said that people with mood disorders experience pain differently than the average person. What “you may report as a two out of 10, someone with mental health disorders — depression, anxiety — may report as a 10 out of 10,” Sites said. Additionally, he said that the use of opioids may improve depression symptoms for a short while, causing certain patients to ask for continued refills.

Over-prescribing has Led to an Epidemic

Doctors who over-prescribe painkiller medications are part of the problem. Since 1999, overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers have quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and from 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people died as a result of a prescription opioid overdose.About half of all opioid medications are prescribed by primary-care physicians, who are also in charge of managing mild to moderate cases of anxiety and depression. Sites explains that physicians may feel empathetic toward their patients who have preexisting conditions, making them more likely to overprescribe.

Today, nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths in the United States involve a prescription painkiller, according to the CDC, and in 2015, more than 15,000 people died as a result of a prescription opioid overdose.

Better Access to Treatment for Chronic Pain and Mental Illness is Needed

This gap between the overprescription of opioids and the lack of adequate access to treatment for mental illness makes for a serious and dangerous combination. Dr. Sites explained that doctors need more accessible alternatives for the treatment of chronic pain, including cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy, and massage therapy.

“We don’t have the ability to refer and recommend those things easily,” Sites said, “So the easiest thing right now is to prescribe a pill.”

This study may help to provide doctors with a better understanding of the impact their prescribing methods have on their patients, particularly those who suffer from anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, without proper care for mental illnesses, the conflict becomes even greater. “We’re in an independent crisis of mental health as well, the under-treatment of it,” Sites told the Washington Post. “These two things collide.”

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental illness, seeking help from a professional and accredited treatment center is the best option. At Get Treatment, we are dedicated to helping you find the treatment program that fits your needs for recovery. Our top-rated treatment facilities provide tailored treatment programs and high quality care. We can help you find a opioid addiction treatment center that also offers dual diagnosis treatment programs. Call us today at 855-638-9268 to begin your journey to recovery.


Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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