Long-Term Use of Opioids Boosts Depression Risk

Taking opioid-based drugs over the long-term may increase one’s risk of developing depression.

Jeffrey Scherrer, PhD, associate professor for family and community medicine at Saint Louis University, Mo, and colleagues say their finding are based on the impact that long-term opioid use over 30 days on changes on neuroanatomy and low testosterone.

The team culled patient data from 2000-2012 from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWH), and the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS).

This included 70 997 VHA patients, 13 777 BSWH patients and 22,981 patients from HFHS. The patients were new opioid users, between the ages of 18 and 80, without depression when they began taking medication.

Twelve percent of the VHA sample, 9% of the BSWH sample, and 11% of the HFHS sample experienced new-onset depression after opioid use for pain, the researchers reported in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Although research on the efficacy of opioids in depression is limited, they authors say the literature does not support opioids as an effective long-term treatment for depression.

“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.”


Scherrer JF, et al. Prescription Opioid Duration, Dose, and Increased Risk of Depression in 3 Large Patient Populations. Ann Fam Med. 2016; 14(1):56-62.