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People with mood and anxiety disorders are at risk for abusing opiate prescription drugs, and the converse is also true. Those who abuse these painkillers are more likely to develop mood and anxiety disorders, according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomsburg School of Public Health.

Dr. Silivia Martins and colleagues studied data from two stages of the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Over 34,000 adults were interviewed for the survey between 2001 and 2002, and again in 2004 to 2005.

Dr. Martins’ team found that in the 2005 survey, 2.3% were using prescription painkillers without prescriptions; 0.6% were abusing or dependent on them; 7% had mood disorders; and 6.7% had incident anxiety disorders. Those who used opioids without prescriptions were more likely to develop mood disorders, major depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders. Those who already had these disorders were more likely to be using opioids without a prescription.

One explanation could be that whatever combination of genetics and environment make people vulnerable to mood and anxiety disorders also make them vulnerable to abuse of prescription painkillers.

The research team recommended that those who take opioids with or without prescription should be monitored for the development of mood and anxiety disorders because early detection could cut down their abuse of these drugs. The study appeared in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Between 1999 and 2009, the number of Americans admitted for treatment for abuse of prescription drugs increased by over 430%, although the overall rate of substance abuse admissions remained steady, according to research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The number of admittees for prescription drug addictions increased from 10 per 100,000 to 53, but overall admissions were steady at about 756 per 100,000. The highest rate of such opioid painkiller abuse was in Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Arkansas, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

The prescription drugs most commonly used are opioids that are chemically related to heroin. They include morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and many others most often prescribed for terminally ill patients and people with severe, chronic pain. They are highly addictive, and lead to physical dependency, tolerance, and withdrawal syndromes.

Pamela Hyde, the director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said, “The increasing numbers of people entering treatment for prescription drug abuse is the latest indicator of the severity of the problem. Concerned family members or friends who think a substance abuse problem may exist should seek help. Treatment is effective. Most people recover.”


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