Mental Health Diagnoses, Opioid Use Linked in New Study

Black and white portrait of woman staring out windowMore than half of opioid prescriptions go to people who have a mental health condition, according to a new study scheduled for publication in the July issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The United States is in the midst of an opioid abuse and overdose epidemic. Between 1999 and 2015, doctors quadrupled the rate at which they prescribe opioids. In 2015, more than 15,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in 2014, nearly 2 million Americans were addicted to opioids.

The Link Between Mental Health and Opioid Use

The study analyzed opioid prescription data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality between 2011 and 2013. Researchers found 51% of opioid prescriptions go to people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health diagnoses. Of the 38.6 million people diagnosed with a mental health condition, 7 million (19%) receive an opioid prescription. Compared to 18.7% of people with depression or anxiety, just 5% of people without a mental health diagnosis use opioids.

The study’s authors say people with a mental health diagnosis are at a heightened risk of opioid dependence. People with mental health conditions may also experience chronic pain. Another recent study found people with chronic back pain are more likely to have a mental health issue. Therapy may help some people cope with chronic pain, and the CDC recommends therapy as an effective strategy for managing chronic pain.

Are Doctors Overprescribing Opioids?

According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 4 opioid prescription recipients with non-cancer pain have an addiction. This suggests doctors may not be carefully monitoring patients for signs of addiction before writing prescriptions. Another study found 91% of people who survive opioid overdoses receive another opioid prescription. Seventy percent of the time, the prescription comes from the provider who wrote the prescription that preceded the overdose.

CDC guidelines recommend that physicians only provide opioids when absolutely necessary. However, research published in 2016 found the rate at which doctors prescribe opioids for pain relief after low-risk surgeries has increased over time.

Prescription rates vary from region to region, which indicates that factors other than patient need may affect whether a provider prescribes opioids.


  1. Bernstein, L. (2017, June 26). Greater opioid use and mental health disorders are linked in a new study. Retrieved from
  2. Depressed patients more likely to be prescribed opioids. (2017, June 20). Retrieved from
  3. Prescribing data. (2016, December 20). Retrieved from
  4. Prescription opioid overdose data. (2016, December 16). Retrieved from

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  • Seth


    June 27th, 2017 at 4:52 PM

    Yes they are over prescribing by miles and miles
    Why do you think that the addiction problem has become so bad?
    because rather than stopping to think about what this could do the patient if they over prescribe, I believe that many now know what constant feedback they would receive from the patient if they did not give them the drugs and the amount that they have sadly become accustomed to.

  • Tara


    June 28th, 2017 at 9:01 AM

    Chicken versus egg
    what comes first?
    this is the medication that is being used to treat mental illness?
    or is the mental illness developing as a result of over medication?

  • Joey


    June 29th, 2017 at 2:16 PM

    Well being addicted to anything is never going to make anything easy or better is it?

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