Study finds more than 50% of opioid prescriptions are distributed for mental disorders

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, of all the opioid medication prescriptions that are distributed annually in the US, more than half are for patients diagnosed for mental illness such as depression and anxiety.

The new study by Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the University of Michigan published in the July issue of the journal is amid the first that demonstrates the extent of opioids usage among the American population with mental illness.

In the backdrop of the opioid crisis in the US, the authors cautioned that the association between mental illness and prescribing opioid medication is a main concern as mental illness poses a major risk factor for overdosage and other critical outcomes related to opioids. This higher usage of opioid medication among people with mental disorder continues also for all significant types of pain as in cancer and in other levels of pain that are self-reported.

Despite representing only 16 percent of the adult population, adults with mental health disorders receive more than half of all opioid prescriptions distributed each year in the United States.”

Matthew Davis of the University of Michigan, co-author of the study.

The study has found that annually more than 18% of Americans (more than 7 million among the 38.6 million) are prescribed for opioids medication after diagnosed with mental health disorders. In contrast, 5% of adults without mental disorders are probably prescribed opioids.

Adults with mental health disorders were more than twice as likely to receive an opioid prescription.

Because of the vulnerable nature of patients with mental illness, such as their susceptibility for opioid dependency and abuse, this finding warrant urgent attention to determine if the risks associated with such prescribing are balanced with therapeutic benefits.”

Dr. Brian Sites, anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Sites mentioned that pain being a subjective phenomenon, when mental illness is present in the patient, it may influence the complex dynamics among the patient, physician, and healthcare system resulting in a decision to prescribe opioid medications.

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