Prescription painkillers and depression are joined at the hip: long-term opiate use can lead to depression and depression can lead to prescription painkiller abuse. Medical scientists are now working to understand the association between mental health and prescription painkiller abuse, as a large number of people in the United States suffer from each of these two conditions.
Some studies show that using opioid painkillers continually for more than 90 days can significantly increase your risk for depression, while other research suggests a history of depression increases your risk for prescription painkiller use. While scientists have not yet confirmed the link between depression and prescription painkiller use, the association seems clear.
Prescription Painkillers May Cause Depression
Researchers from Saint Louis University published a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in which they were able to demonstrate the strong connection between long-term use of prescription painkillers and the development of depression. The scientists looked at the records of 50,000 U.S. veterans whose doctors had prescribed painkillers; none of the veterans had a previous history of depression or drug abuse.
The results of the study showed that patients who remained on prescription painkillers longer than 180 days were at 53 percent greater risk for developing depression than were veterans who took the analgesics for less than 90 days. Patients who took prescription painkillers were at a 25 percent greater risk of depression.
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Scientists are not sure how long-term opiate use results in depression but the researchers of the Saint Louis University study suggest that opiates reset the brain’s reward pathway and raise the threshold for happiness.
History of Depression Increases the Likelihood that a Chronic Pain Patient Will Receive Painkillers
In a study published in General Hospital Psychiatry, researchers discovered that chronic pain patients with a history of depression are three times as likely to receive a prescription for opioids than are patients who do not suffer depression. These patients all suffered from chronic pain unrelated to cancer.
The researchers of this study concluded that doctors are prescribing opioid therapy to a different population than the population scientists studied when looking at the drugs’ effectiveness and safety in clinical tests.
One of the most troubling aspects of this problem is that depression affects so many people – anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the American population – and that opiates are prescribed on such a wide scale. In fact, opiates are the most commonly prescribed class of drugs in the United States; doctors prescribe this class of painkillers more frequently than antibiotics, heart medicine or vaccinations.
Individuals with a history of depression should discuss other means of easing chronic pain with their doctors. There are alternative means of relieving pain, such as physical therapy, biofeedback, chiropractic care, and lifestyle changes.
Conversely, anyone with chronic pain should discuss signs of depression with their physician. Again, seeking alternative care for chronic pain may present a better outcome than with prescription pain medication.
Contact a physician, mental health professional or drug treatment facility to learn more about the connection between prescription painkillers and depression. These two conditions do not need to be joined at the hip.