Opioid use for more than 30 days significantly increased the chances of depression in patients, according to findings of a new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The authors of the study sampled over 100,000 patients who began long-term (over 30 days) opioid analgesic use. All patients (aged 18–80 years) were all new opioid users and came from three different health care systems: (1) the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), (2) Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWH), and (3) the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS).

Before the study, none of the patients had a diagnosis of depression. However, a significant number of the sample experienced new-onset depression following opioid analgesic use. Specifically, 12% of the VHA sample, 9% of the BSWH sample, and 11% of the HFHS sample, experienced depression onset.

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The study backs up previous research that correlates opioid use duration as a greater factor in depression onset, rather than dosage. “Patients and practitioners should be aware that opioid analgesic use of longer than 30 days imposes risk of new-onset depression,” wrote lead author of the study, Jeffrey Scherrer, PhD, and associate professor at Saint Louis University.

The link between opioids and depression was independent of the known impact of pain on depression. The study calls on clinicians to consider opioid use as a factor when patients develop depressed moods.

Across the 3 patient populations evaluated in the study, longer use of opioids was tied to new-onset of depression, after controlling for pain and daily morphine equivalent doses. The authors assert their claim that current efficacy studies do not support opioids as an effective long-term treatment for depression.

For more information visit slu.edu.