According to new research, people who frequently take opioid medicines or painkillers to deal with chronic pain are more likely to get depressed.
Previous research suggests that depression is associated with patients’ opioid use, but this particular study has identified the link between an increase in opioid use and an increase in depression.
Jeffrey Scherrer, associate professor for family and community medicine at the Saint Louis University in the US, and his colleagues studied questionnaires from 355 patients who suffered from chronic lower back pain initially and at one-year and two-year follow ups.
The patients also mentioned the number of years they had been suffering from chronic pain.
“Better understanding of temporal relationship between opioids and depression, and the dose of opioids that places patients at risk for depression may inform prescribing, pain management and improve outcomes for patients with chronic, non-cancer pain,” Scherrer wrote.
Contributing factors for cases of new-onset depression, according to this study and previous research, may include both the amount of daily morphine exposure and the duration of the exposure.
“This would expand intervention targets to limit the risk of depression in patients who need long-term opioid therapy,” he added.
The researchers said that even though there is no clear indication about how opioids may lead to the development of depression in a person, there could be a number of factors that cause the depression.
According to an article published on the Saint Louis University’s website, “Some of these include opioid-induced resetting of the brain’s ‘reward pathway’ to a higher level, which means the chronic use of narcotic pain killers can elevate the threshold for a person’s ability to experience pleasure from natural rewards such as a food or sexual activity.
Other factors may include body aches long after the use of opioids has been discontinued, adverse effects such as deficiencies of adrenal, testosterone and Vitamin D, and glucose dysregulation.
The study appeared in the journal Pain.