More than half of all opioid prescriptions are written for mental health patients

More than half of all opioid prescriptions are written for mental health patients

If you or someone you care for is being treated for anxiety, depression or some other mental health disorder, and are taking opioids to treat a painful condition, it would be wise to seek alternative pain relief. People with emotional problems who use opioids are more at risk for dependence and addiction. A new study has found that more than half of all opioid painkiller prescriptions written in America are for patients also being treated for mental disorders. In fact, those with mental health conditions are up to four times as likely to use opioids as patients suffering only from acute or chronic pain. The study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, found that more than half, or 51.4 percent, of the total 115 million opioid prescriptions written every year are for the 16 percent of American adults diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

The study found that nearly 20 percent of patients diagnosed with anxiety and depression were also taking opioids, compared to only 5 percent of patients who have not received such diagnoses. The study exhaustively analyzed Medicare records of 51,891 American patients, and learned that the most common oral opioid prescriptions were hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin, Lorcet, etc.), tramadol and hydrocodone. Mental health patients also taking opioids were predominantly single, middle-aged, white females. The study found that patients with mental health disorders had a two- to four-times higher chance of opioid use than other adults. Not all conditions for which opioids were prescribed were available in the records, but many were for musculoskeletal problems and joint or connective disease. Of course, patients diagnosed with mental health disorders would also be taking some form of psychoactive medication, in addition to the opioids. The danger of opioid dependence and addiction among mental patients prompted the study authors to recommend closer monitoring for such opioid prescribing.

“The relationship between mental health and pain is complex, but our study suggests that Americans with mental health disorders are a population to potentially target with strategies that aim to reduce dependency on opioids,”

Matthew Davis, PhD, MPH, of the University of Michigan Davis, told MedPage Today. “Healthcare providers who care for this population should be aware of the high rates of opioid use and be sure to fully utilize non-opioid therapies when appropriate.”

Rheumatoid arthritis patients also big opioid users

Another study has found that opioid use among older patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) continues to be “substantial” in spite of concerns about opioid overprescribing. Researchers at the University of Alabama reported in Arthritis & Rheumatology that opioid use in older RA patients “peaked” in 2010 and then began to decline, but as of 2014, roughly 40 percent of RA patients were still using opioids on a regular basis. In one study of 70,929 RA Medicare patients averaging 67 years old, regular users were considered those who filled three or more 30-day, or one or more 90-day prescriptions, during a calendar year. In another study, the researchers looked at 240,750 RA Medicare patients, and 41 percent of them (97,859) were “regular” users, 19 percent were “intermittent” users and 40 percent were non-users. Regular users were younger (mean age of 67), mostly female (almost 80 percent), and more likely to be black (12 percent) compared with non-users and intermittent users. Opioid prescribing patterns varied substantially among rheumatologists, ranging from none to 93 percent.

The takeaway

The takeaway here for everyone is that the use of opioids continues to be widespread, even among those most vulnerable to dependence – patients with chronic pain and those with mental health conditions. Also, too many physicians continue to write opioid prescriptions rather than seriously investigate, and prescribe, alternative therapies. Considering the litany of opioid tragedies in the news these days, avoiding opioid dependence and addiction should be at the top of everyone’s list. And seeking expert help and treatment should be right up there too. So don’t hesitate – call Novus for expert advice.

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