Use of Opioid Painkillers Linked to Increased Depression Risk in New Study

by Eric Pearson

A new study has found that patients who are treated with opioid painkillers for longer than one month face an increased risk of depression. Although pain itself can increase a patient’s risk of depression, researchers found that the link between pain and opioid use was still present even when they accounted for the potential role of pain in causing depression symptoms.

Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri examined health data for three groups totaling more than 100,000 patients who began taking opioid painkillers at the time of the study. Researchers followed up with the patients for between 7-10 years, depending on which group they were in.

The study found that 12% of patients in the first group, 9% of patients in the second group, and 11% of patients in the third group developed symptoms of depression after they began treatment with opioids. These patients were treated with a wide variety of opioid medications, including oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, codeine, levorphanol, meperidine, and pentazocine.

The study also found that patients were more likely to report depressive symptoms the longer they were being treated with prescription painkillers. In the first group of 71,000 patients, for example, 11.6% of patients who were treated with opioids for between one day and one month developed symptoms of depression, compared to 13.6% who used opioids for 1-3 months and 14.4% of patients who were treated with these drugs for more than three months.

The researchers who conducted the Annals of Family Medicine study say that they are still uncertain why treatment with opioids contributes to an increased risk of depression. Jeffrey Scherrer, the lead author of the study, suggests that low levels of testosterone caused by opioid use or behavioral problems may be the cause. “We know that chronic opioid use leads to low testosterone in males and females, and that is known to be related to poor mood,” Scherrer says. “Some patients may start to lose control and develop early symptoms of [opioid] misuse, which is known to be related to depression.”

Prescription Painkillers and the Epidemic of Opioid Abuse

Depression is not the only serious problem that has been linked to opioid use. In 2014, opioid painkillers were linked to nearly 19,000 overdose deaths, helping to make pharmaceutical overdoses the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

Many of the problems with opioid painkiller use are rooted in the high rate at which these medications are prescribed to patients. In 2012, more than 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written in the U.S., enough to provide every adult in the country with their own bottle of pills. In addition to the high number of accidental overdoses that have occurred due to the high rate of opioid use in the U.S., this increased prescription rate also increases the likelihood that patients may develop dependence, abuse, or addiction problems.

The increase in the rise in opioid painkiller prescriptions is due in part to the aggressive marketing of these drugs to doctors by the pharmaceutical industry. The manufacturers of drugs such as OxyCodone had heavily marketed these products to physicians, in some cases even encouraging off-label prescriptions that are barred by the Food and Drug Administration.

Lawsuits Filed on Behalf of Opioid Painkiller Overdose Victims

If you or a loved one has been the victim of an overdose or other serious complications caused by opioid overprescription, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against manufacturer of the drug, or the doctor or hospital that was responsible for your injuries. The first step in taking legal action is to talk with a law firm with the experience and knowledge to successfully handle your case from start to finish.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have been the victim of complications caused by opioid painkiller prescriptions. Our law firm has handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller that is about 80-100 times more powerful than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

If you or a loved one has been hurt by side effects from opioid painkiller medications, the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are ready to help. For more information about filing a lawsuit and to learn if you may be eligible to file a case, contact our law firm by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located at the top of this page and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.