Researchers have discovered that people suffering from mood and anxiety disorders are more likely to use and abuse non-prescription opioids.
Mood disorders in general heighten the risk for substance abuse. In this study, investigators made a distinction between prescription opioids commonly used for treatment of chronic and acute pain and opioid use that occurs absent a prescription.
Opioids used for medical purposes include oxycontin, hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), morphine, fentanyl, codeine, and related medications.
Non-medical use of prescription opioids was defined in the study as use of a prescription opioid without a prescription or in greater amounts more often or longer than prescribed or for a reason other than a doctor’s instruction to use them.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the current use of opioids in this fashion has increased dramatically with prescription opioids being the second most frequently used illegal drug in the U.S. after marijuana.
Prescription opioids are highly addictive and prolonged use can produce neurological changes and physiological dependence.
For the study, researchers examined the association between individuals with mood and anxiety disorders with non-medical prescription opioid use and opioid disorder.
“Lifetime non-medical prescription opioid use was associated with the incidence of any mood disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and all anxiety disorders.
Non-medical opioid-use disorder due to non-medical prescription opioid use was associated with any mood disorder, any anxiety disorder, as well as with several incident mood disorders and anxiety disorders,” said Silvia Martins, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study.
Investigators believe their findings support the belief that use of non-prescription opioids may be a method by which individuals self-medicate to reduce mood disorders, major depressive disorder, dysthymia and panic disorder.
As such, early identification and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders might reduce the risk for self-medication with prescription opioids and the risk of future development of an opioid-use disorder, say the researchers.
Researchers reviewed data from the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to assess participants for a history of psychiatric disorders.
Investigators used sophisticated statistical analysis to determine whether lifetime non-medical prescription opioid uses, and opioid disorders due to this use, occur among individuals who suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. And, if the mood disorders could result from non-medical prescription opioid use.
“With the current increased use of non-medical prescription drugs, especially among adolescents, the association with future psychopathology is of great concern. Using opioids, or even withdrawal from opioids, might precipitate anxiety disorders, suggesting that there is a subgroup of people who are vulnerable to future development of anxiety disorders,” said Carla Storr, Sc.D., author of the study.
Individuals using prescription opioids need to be closely monitored not only for the possibility of engaging in non-medical use, but also for the development of comorbid psychiatric disorders.
“Additional studies are needed to examine the relationship between non-medical prescription opioid use and prescription opioid-use disorder with mood and anxiety disorders since they could co-occur due to shared genetic or environmental risk factors,” Martins adds.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published their findings in the Journal of Psychological Medicine.