opioid pain killers

Researchers have reported in the journal Annals of Family Medicine on a study investigating the association between long-term use of opioid drugs and depression, with concerning results.


Opioid medications (also called narcotics) are most commonly prescribed for pain management, and include morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. A recent has analysed data from over 100 000 patients who were new users of opioid pain killers. At the time the study began, the participants did not have a previous diagnosis of depression, and so the study was specifically able to address new cases of depression that began after the use of opioid medications.

The study reported an increase in new-onset depression following use of opioid medications in up to 12% of the patients sampled. The researchers found that patients who were taking the medication for longer than 30 days were at even higher risk of developing depression, compared with patients who took the medication for less than 30 days. While there was a risk associated with longer use of opioids, the study did not find any difference in risk of depression with increasing doses.

The researchers conclude that longer-term use, but not dose, of opioid medications was associated with increased risk of depression in patients that had not previously suffered from depression. They suggest that physicians should take these results into account when prescribing this type of medication, while also being aware that depressive symptoms reported by patients may be a result of taking opioids.



Scherrer, JF, Salas, J, Copeland, LA, Stock, EM, Ahmedani, BK, Sullivan, MD, Burroughs, T, Schneider, FD, Bucholz, KK, Lustman, PJ. “Prescription Opioid Duration, Dose, and Increased Risk of Depression in 3 Large Patient Populations” Ann Fam Med January/February 2016 vol. 14 no. 1 54-62






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