Mentally ill patients get half of opioid prescriptions

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Adults with a mental illness receive more than 50 percent of the 115 million opioid prescriptions in the United States annually, according to a study released June 26. The results prompted researchers to suggest that improving pain management for people with mental health problems “is critical to reduce national dependency on opioids.”

People with mental health disorders represent 16 percent of the U.S. population.

The findings are worrisome, the researchers reported. They had expected that physicians were more conservative in prescribing these painkillers to people with mental illness.

“We are prescribing way too much opioids,” said Dr. Brian Sites, an anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and one of the study’s researchers.

“Because patients with mental health disorders are a vulnerable population, [they’re] probably more likely to develop addiction and abuse,” he added. Sites suggested that physicians consider using different criteria when prescribing opioids for people with mental illness.

“The opioids are prescribed primarily for pain,” but patients with mental illness find that the drugs alleviate their mental issues too, said Dr. Edwin Salsitz, an attending physician in the Division of Chemical Dependency of Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York who was not involved in the study. And this, he said, is what can lead to long-term use.