The link between reducing opioid prescriptions and mental health problems

During the opioid epidemic, reducing overdose fatalities has been the main priority for public health campaigners. However, a new study has explored the effects of reducing prescriptions. 

The study, which was carried out by researchers at the University of California, looked at the impact of health care providers reducing opioid prescriptions to treat patients in pain. 

One of the key findings of this study was that, despite practitioners aiming to lower the doses for patients using opioids for pain management, this may cause other issues.

They found that reducing the dosage for these patients could lead to more mental health problems and even an increase in overdoses. 

Researcher Alicia Agnoli said, “Prescribers are in a really difficult position. There are conflicting desires of ameliorating pain among patients while reducing the risk of adverse outcomes related to prescriptions.” 

“Our study showed an increased risk of overdose and mental health crisis following dose reduction. It suggests that patients undergoing tapering need significant support to safely reduce or discontinue their opioids.” 

How to help patients on opioids 

For the study, the researchers analyzed the data of over 113,000 patients using opioids to manage their pain, including their hospital records. 

By comparing the records of those that had their doses reduced over a year to those that were kept on the same dosage, they found a link between lower doses and mental health problems. 

Reducing opioid prescriptions resulted in a 70% higher risk of a mental health emergency, with patients more likely to experience drug withdrawal, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. 

Alicia Agnoli added, “We hope that work will inform a more cautious and compassionate approach to decisions around opioid dose tapering.” 

“Our study may help shape clinical guidelines on patient selection for tapering, optimal rates of dose reduction, and how best to monitor and support patients during periods of dose transition.” 

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