Opioids and chronic pain generally go together. Opioids have been in use for treatment of chronic pain since ages. In spite of its benefits, opioid use has widely been associated with many side effects. And now a new entrant to the list of side effects of opioid analgesic is depression.
According to a 2016 study, “Prescription Opioid Duration, Dose, and Increased Risk of Depression in 3 Large Patient Populations,” published in the Annals of Family Medicine, long-term use – 30 days or more – of opioid increases the risk of depression in patients.
The study, led by Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D., associate professor in Family and Community Medicine at Saint Louis University, says that no clear evidence has been found about the method by which opioids may lead to onset of depression in a patient and that there could be several factors behind it. He said the possible reasons for the risk may be attributed to a decrease in testosterone level and changes in neuroanatomy.
However, the researchers made it clear that the problem was linked to duration of the medication and not the dose. “Opioid-related new onset of depression is associated with longer duration of use but not dose,” Scherrer noted.
The latest study is an extension of a previous one conducted by Scherrer himself in 2013. According to a sciencedaily.com report, Scherrer had “discovered a link between chronic use of pain-relieving medication and increase in the risk of developing major depression.” The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, claimed that patients who used opioids for 180 days or more had 53 percent higher risk of developing depression, and those who were on opioids for 90-180 days had 25 percent higher chance of getting depression compared to patients who never took opioids for longer than 1-89 days.
Opioids are prescription-based narcotic painkiller. Some of the commonly used opioids are odeine, fentanyl, methadone, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone and acetaminophen. Opioids function by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other parts in the body. When these drugs attach to their receptors, it decreases pain.
Some side effects associated with opioid usage are drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression. However, this group of drugs carries a high potential of being abused, leading to addiction.
According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. reached a record level in 2014 through an increase of 14 percent in one year. Opioids contributed 61 percent of the 47,055 drug overdose cases in the U.S. in 2014. With 28,647 opioid-related deaths in 2014, it stood at three times higher than in 2000.
Drug overdose has taken the shape of an epidemic in the U.S. and is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. According to American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014. The report added that an estimated 23 percent of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction.
According to a report published in 2015 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a 9 percent hike in overdose deaths from prescribed opioids was recorded in 2014 compared to the previous year, a 26 percent hike in heroin deaths and an 80 percent jump in deaths from synthetic opioids, other than methadone.
Government efforts against the epidemic
The Barack Obama Government is leaving no stones unturned to check the growing problem. According to a White House release, in 2010 the President launched his first National Drug Control Strategy, which stressed on the need for action to address opioid use disorders and overdose.
According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration announced in October 2015 that it will work to give more access to drug treatment and more specialized doctors will be trained about opiate painkiller prescription.
To bring about transparency in opioid prescription and its use, the CDC came up with a draft guideline on opioid prescribing in December 2015 and the draft was open for comment till January 13, 2016. The recommendations will be made to the Board after a review.
If you or your loved one is grappling with prescription drug abuse problem, now is the time to act and lead a happy drug-free life. Call the Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline immediately at 866-450-1557 for further information.