Study Links Mental Health Disorders with a Greater Use of Opioid Painkillers - Are Doctors Overprescribing?

News Sentinel, July 10, 2017 | Go to article overview

Study Links Mental Health Disorders with a Greater Use of Opioid Painkillers - Are Doctors Overprescribing?


"The sheer magnitude suggests the possibility of overprescribing. There's just no way all these prescriptions are needed."

Dr. Brian Sites

anesthesiologist

NASHVILLE - Adults with mental health disorders are consuming more than half of all painkillers prescribed in the United States, according to a new study.

While adults suffering from depression, anxiety and mood disorders represent just 16percent of the nation's population, they received 51percent of all opioid prescriptions.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said that rethinking pain management among this group is "critical" to combat a growing national opioid addiction epidemic - one that has hit Tennessee particularly hard.

Tennessee leads the nation in the number of opioid prescriptions per person and has a five-year overdose death toll that has climbed to 6,036 people.

"When we got the results, we were completely shocked at the large discrepancy in prescribing," said Dr. Brian Sites, an anesthesiologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a co-author of the study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

"The sheer magnitude suggests the possibility of overprescribing," Sites said. "There's just no way all these prescriptions are needed."

But the leader of Tennessee's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions or tailoring public policies around the conclusions of one study.

"If the study bears out with further research, our department will be the first to say we want to develop ways in which we can serve that population," said Marie Williams, the department's commissioner.

"If it doesn't, we don't want to further stigmatize a group that is already stigmatized."

Opioids were the No.1 substance abused in 2016 by individuals with mental illness who were receiving services from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, with alcohol a close second.

Williams noted the study did not focus on individuals known to be abusing opioids. The study defined opioid users as anyone who had two or more prescriptions per year. It also did not include people living in institutions such as mental health facilities or jails.

Addiction treatment experts say they have long seen a correlation between mental health disorders and substance abuse, but the study is a first to put a number on those cases.

"The large number using opioids - that's more than would have been anticipated," said Dr. Karen Rhea, chief medical officer for Centerstone, which treats more than 65,000 people in Tennessee at its behavioral health centers.

Rhea said chronic physical pain among people with depression and anxiety is a real problem, not a phantom one, she said. …

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