Study Cautions Prescribers to Consider Chronic Opioid Therapy as a Risk Factor for Depression

A study led by researchers at Saint Louis University demonstrates that chronic opioid therapy is associated with elevated risk of new-onset depression. The authors note that the linkage appears to be independent of the known connection between pain and depression and caution prescribers to consider the role of long-term opioid use when evaluating patients who develop depression symptoms. The authors hypothesize that long-term opioid use may lead to changes in neuroanatomy and low testosterone. The study additionally calls for further research to identify which patients are at greatest risk for opioid-induced depression. The research appears online this week in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The study compared patient data from the Veterans Health Administration to data from patients in 2 other healthcare systems, Baylor Scott & White Health and Henry Ford Health System. The patients were new opioid users, aged 18 to 80, and without a prior diagnosis of depression at the onset of opioid therapy. Across all 3 populations, chronic opioid use (defined as >30 days) was associated with increased incidence of new-onset depression, after controlling for pain scores and dose variation. Lead author Jeffrey Scherrer, PhD, noted, “Findings were remarkably consistent across the 3 healthcare systems even though the systems have very different patient characteristics and demographics.”

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Read more about the study findings here.

The journal abstract may be read here.




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