"For every additional 1 per cent of the population that has a depression diagnosis, we see between a 25 and 35 per cent increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths," said lead author Laura Schwab Reese of Purdue University. "We thought maybe suicide was driving this, but we sectioned out unintentional overdose and found that the relationship continued."
"We know from prior literature that people who are depressed are more likely to be prescribed opioids, but also that people who are prescribed opioids are more likely to become depressed," said Schwab Reese, a student at Riverdale Country School. "We need to recognise that this is probably a bidirectional relationship."
The solution, said Schwab Reese, is twofold. Doctors should screen for depression and discuss the risk with patients before prescribing opioids. Because nearly two-thirds of opioid overdoses involve prescription medications, doctors could play a significant role in preventing opioid misuse and depression.
"We can't say this person had depression and that led to an overdose - this was a population-level analysis," said Schwab Reese. "To me, that means we need a population-level response."
The study appears in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
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