Nonmedical Prescription Opioid Use by Young Adults Linked to Depression

A serious young man looks down at an open bottle of prescription drugs he is holding.
More than 60% of young adults who reported nonmedical prescription opioid use in the previous 30 days screened positive for depressive symptomology using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Short Depression Scale.

Nonmedical prescription opioid use is associated with depression among young adults, according to an article published in Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

The study included 199 young adults (aged 18 to 29 years) who reported nonmedical prescription opioid use in the previous 30 days and who were part of the Rhode Island Young Adult Prescription Drug Study. Of the participants, 61.3% were white; the median participant age was 25; and 65.3% were male.

Investigators assessed depressive symptomology using the 10-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Short Depression Scale. Nearly 60% of participants (n=119) had a score ≥10, which indicated depression.

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Modified Poisson regression analysis revealed that independent correlates of current depressive symptomology were diagnostic history of depressive disorder and being insulted or sworn at by a parent before the age of 18. Depressive symptomology was also associated with using nonmedical prescription opioids to feel less depressed or anxious, to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and as a substitute when other drugs were not available.

The study was not longitudinal, so causal relationships could not be identified.

Investigators concluded, “Our findings emphasize the need to understand motivations for [nonmedical prescription opioid] use among young adults with comorbid depressive symptomology, so we can better identify those at higher risk of health consequences by increasing screening and provide opportunities for appropriate intervention.”


Bouvier BA, Kinnard EN, Yedinak JL, et al. Prevalence and correlates of depressive symptomology among young adults who use prescription opioids non-medically [published online August 14, 2019]. J Psychoactive Drugs. doi:10.1080/02791072.2019.1654151