A new study has found a link between the rate of depression in the U.S. and opioid-related deaths.
“For every additional 1 percent of the population that has a depression diagnosis, we see between a 25 and 35 percent increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths,” said Dr. Laura Schwab Reese, an assistant professor of health and kinesiology at Purdue University, who led the study.
“We thought maybe suicide was driving this, but we sectioned out unintentional overdose and found that the relationship continued.”
More than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, mostly from opioids, the researcher noted.
For the study, Schwab Reese and Madeline Foley, a student at Riverdale Country School, analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on opioid-related deaths from 2011 to 2015. Rates of opioid-related deaths were generally stable from 2011 to 2013, but increased substantially in the two following years, according to the analysis.
Data on depression was collected by a telephone survey of more than 400,000 people across the country. About 19 percent of respondents reported a depression diagnoses in 2015, up from 17.5 percent in 2011.
“We know from prior literature that people who are depressed are more likely to be prescribed opioids, but also that people who are prescribed opioids are more likely to become depressed,” said Schwab Reese. “We need to recognize that this is probably a bidirectional relationship.”
According to Schwab Reese, the solution is twofold. Doctors should screen for depression and discuss the risk with patients before prescribing opioids.
Because nearly two-thirds of opioid overdoses involve prescription medications, doctors could play a significant role in preventing opioid misuse and depression, she noted.
Second, Americans need better access to mental health care, she said.
More than 40 million Americans have a mental health condition, and more than half of them don’t receive treatment. In West Virginia, the state with the highest number of opioid-related deaths in 2015, nearly a million people live in areas with a shortage of mental health care providers. The U.S. would need an additional 3,000 providers to meet American’s mental health needs, according to another study.
“We can’t say this person had depression and that led to an overdose — this was a population-level analysis,” said Schwab Reese. “To me, that means we need a population-level response.”
The study was published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
Source: Purdue University