Half of all opioid prescriptions are written to people who suffer from mental disorders including depression and anxiety – individuals at greater risk for overdose and other adverse opioid-related events, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
People with mental health disorders only represent about 16 percent of the adult population. But a whopping 51 percent of all opioids distributed nationwide are prescribed to those with mood disorders, said Mathew Davis, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.
The study is the first to show just how prevalent opioid use is among people with mental issues. In total, 115 million prescriptions are written for the powerful painkillers. Sixty million are written to those with mental health disorders. About 38.6 million Americans have a mental health diagnosis. More than 7 million of them – or 18 percent – are prescribed opioids. Comparatively, only 5 percent of people without mental disorders were prescribed an opioid.
“Because of the vulnerable nature of patients with mental illness, such as their susceptibility for opioid dependency and abuse, this finding warrants urgent attention to determine if the risks associated with such prescribing are balanced with therapeutic benefits,” said study co-author Brian Sites, an anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Opioids are powerful painkillers that include medications such as morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and the street drug heroin. They are the most abused and misused prescription drug on the market, and have created an opioid epidemic in the U.S.