Combined Use of Opioids and Antidepressants in the Treatment of Pain: A Review of Veterans Health Administration Data for Patients with Pain Both With and Without Co-morbid Depression
Musculoskeletal pain is prevalent among Veterans treated within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Depression is highly co-prevalent, and antidepressants are increasingly being used for psychiatric and analgesic benefit. The current study examined prescribing patterns of antidepressants and opioids in the context of musculoskeletal pain using a national VHA database. All Veterans diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain who attended at least one appointment through the VHA during Fiscal Year 2012 were dichotomized based on the presence or absence of a depression diagnosis. We compared the proportion in each group that were prescribed antidepressants to the entire sample and repeated this comparison along a continuum of the number of annual opioid prescriptions received (ranging in five categories from no opioids up to >20 scripts). Of the 5.1 million Veterans seen, 19.1 % were diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain, of whom, 27.2 % were diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Antidepressants were prescribed to 78.41 % of patients with musculoskeletal pain and depression, compared to 20.23 % of those without depression. For both groups, antidepressant use increased linearly as annual opioid fills increased. Across the categories of opioid use, patients with depression showed a 13.98 % increase in antidepressant use, compared to a 33.97 % increase in the non-depressed group. Results suggest that antidepressants are frequently prescribed to patients with musculoskeletal pain who are using opioids, consistent with multi-modal pharmacotherapy. Increasing use of antidepressants in conjunction with escalating opioid prescribing, particularly in the absence of diagnosed depression, suggests that antidepressants are being used in both groups to complement opioid therapy.
KeywordsPain management Opioids Depression Antidepressants
This work was supported, in part, by the Veterans Affairs New England Mental Illness, Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC). Research conducted with the administrative databases that were utilized in this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
None of the authors involved in this work have conflicts of interest to disclose.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government.
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