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Long-Term Opioid Use Associated With Increased Risk of Depression

Opioids may cause short-term improvement in mood, but long-term use imposes risk of new-onset depression, according to a Saint Louis University (SLU) study published online in the Annals of Family Medicine. Jeffrey Scherrer, PhD, associate professor for family and community medicine at SLU, and his co-authors speculate that the findings may be explained by long-term opioid use of more than 30 days leading to changes in neuroanatomy and low testosterone, among other possible biological explanations. The link was independent of the known contribution of pain to depression, and the study calls on clinicians to consider the contribution of opioid use when depressed mood develops in their patients.

“Opioid-related new onset of depression is associated with longer duration of use but not dose,” Scherrer wrote. “Patients and practitioners should be aware that opioid analgesic use of longer than 30 days imposes risk of new-onset depression.”

The study calls for additional research to identify which patients are most vulnerable to opioid-related depression.

This article was adapted from information provided by Saint Louis University Medical Center.

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