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More than half of US opioid prescriptions written for patients with mood disorders, study finds

A new study finds that more than half of all opioid painkiller prescriptions in the U.S. are issued to patients with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Researchers say that patients with mood disorders face an increased risk of abusing opioid drugs, but were still prescribed these medications in the U.S. at a higher rate than the general population.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, was based on data collected from health care providers and facilities for about 51,000 U.S. adults. The study analyzed the rate of opioid prescriptions for these patients between 2011 and 2013.

Researchers found that 19% of all patients with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders were prescribed opioid painkillers. In contrast, only 5% of patients who did not suffer from mood disorders received opioid medications.

The authors of the study wrote that it was unclear why patients with mood disorders were receiving so many opioid prescriptions. Researchers said that it was possible that patients with mood disorders require more opioids because they respond differently to pain. The authors also speculated that doctors may be more sympathetic to patients with mood disorders, or that the drugs may have a short-term anti-depressant effect, causing the patients to seek out opioid drugs.

Dr. Brian Sites of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the lead author of the study, says that although opioid prescriptions can be appropriate for patients with mood disorders, the discrepancy in the amount of opioid drugs given to these patients raises serious safety concerns. Dr. Sites said that more research was needed in order to understand why patients with mood disorders were being prescribed these drugs as such a high rate.

Dr. Sites also stressed the need for doctors to pursue other strategies for pain management besides prescribing opioid medications, including behavioral therapy, acupuncture or acupressure, physical therapy, and massages. Because these therapies are harder to prescribe, Dr. Sites said, many physicians may opt for the easier route and treat their patients with opioid medications.

Jeffrey Scherrer, an epidemiologist at Saint Louis University, said that he was not surprised by the correlation between mood disorders and increased opioid prescriptions. “A lot of pain patients attribute their depression to their pain,” Scherrer said, “but there’s a lot of evidence that depression is playing a role in both the experience of pain and the odds of getting an opioid.”

Dr. Mark Edlund, a health analyst at RTI International, said that the new study is the latest research to indicate that patients with mental health issues may be prescribed opioids more frequently than the general population. He said that although health experts have begun to place an emphasis on reducing the number of opioid prescriptions in the US, it was also important that doctors and public health officials take steps to ensure that opioids are only being prescribed to patient populations that could benefit from these drugs.

Opioid Painkillers Can Be Deadly

The CDC estimates that 14,000 Americans lost their lives in 2014 as a result of an overdose caused by prescription painkillers. Thousands more have abused these drugs or become addicted, due in part to irresponsible prescribing practices by a physician or the aggressive marketing of these drugs by the painkiller industry.

If your family has lost a loved one to an opioid painkiller overdose, the doctor or hospital who prescribed these drugs may be at fault. Many doctors and hospital prescribe opioids to their patients in high doses or for an extended period, place them at risk of complications from abuse or addiction linked to these drugs.

The aggressive promotion of opioid medications by the pharmaceutical industry has also played a role in the U.S. opioid epidemic. Physician training programs and other campaigns created by the opioid industry have helped to “educate” doctors to prescribe these drugs, helping to fuel the increased use of opioid medications for moderate pain conditions.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are committed to helping patients and their families who have been affected by doctors who irresponsibly prescribe opioid painkillers and other potentially deadly drugs to their patients. Heygood, Orr & Pearson has represented numerous patients who have suffered complications from excessive painkiller prescriptions by a doctor or hospital. In fact, the lawyers at our firm have handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch than all other law firms in the country combined.

For more information about filing a lawsuit on behalf of your loved one and to learn whether you may qualify to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free legal consultation from an attorney. To find out more, please call us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few brief questions to get started.

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