Slightly more than half of all of the opioid prescriptions written each year are given to people with mood disorders, depression and anxiety, a troubling statistic since those with mental illness face a higher risk of overdose and abuse.
About 115 million opioids prescriptions are given each year, and 51.4% of them went to people who also had a mental health disorder, according to research published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Opioid use was defined as patients that received 2 or more opioid prescriptions in a year.
Results also showed that 18.7% of adults with a mental illness are given opioids. But just 5% of adults without a mental disorder are prescribed one.
As to why those with mental illness are more likely to receive an opioid, there are several potential reasons. Study co-author Brian Sites, MD, of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, told STAT that some physicians may be sympathetic to patients who have both a mental illness and another condition, making them more likely to prescribe an opioid. Also, people with mood disorders may experience pain differently. He also noted that opioids may have antidepressant effects in the short-term, prompting those with depression to ask their doctor for a prescription.
“The high prevalence of mental health disorders coupled with prescription opioid use suggests that this population is critical to consider when addressing the issue of opioid use from a health system or policy perspective,” the study authors wrote.
Jonathan Block is MedShadow’s content editor. He has previously worked for Psychiatry Advisor, Modern Healthcare, Health Reform Week and The Pink Sheet.