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There is much debate around the issue regarding if Oxycontin helps or causes depression; it seems to be a chicken or egg type of issue.  Oxycontin is frequently prescribed to people with depression, as according to a PBS Newshour article “51 percent of opioid prescriptions go to people with depression and mood disorders”, individuals with mood disorders are provided with more opioid prescriptions than other individuals, partly because they respond to pain differently.

The article goes on to discuss that more than half of all opioid prescriptions in the United States are written for people with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.  Since opioids are thought to have a short-term antidepressant effect, it is possible that these individuals are motivated to seek out these types of prescriptions.  People with a history of depression are at a higher risk of developing chronic pain and, thus, are prescribed opioid medications more frequently.  Jeffrey Scherrer, a professor and epidemiologist at Saint Louis University, stated that “A lot of pain patients attribute their depression to their pain, but there’s a lot of evidence that depression is playing a role in both the experience of pain and the odds of getting an opioid.”

The “Opioids Increase Depression & Depression Increases Opioid Misuse” article on describes how opioid systems affect mood and when things go wrong, this can cause depression.  And when people experience these depressive symptoms, they are more likely to self-medicate with opioids.  This is a vicious cycle, as long-term opioid use may then disrupt the typical pathways in the brain, making it harder to feel pleasure from normal, everyday events, as well as lead to life-consequences that ultimately worsen depression.

As difficult as it is to determine if depression causes individuals to turn to Oxycontin or if Oxycontin-use causes depression in individuals, the connection between pain and depression is also complicated, as discussed in the PsychCentral article, “Opioid Use Among Those with Depression.”  It is challenging to ascertain how often chronic pain and depression occur together, and whether the pain is causing or worsening depression or the other way around.  Researchers have discovered that patients with chronic pain and a history of depression are three times more likely to receive a prescription for this class of drug as compared to patients with pain, but who do not suffer from depression.  According to Mark Sullivan, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington, the bottom line is that “it is very important that opioid treatment for chronic pain does not replace or distract from treating mental disorders.”

Much of the research and studies conducted on the link between Oxycontin-use and depression appears to lean towards individuals already suffering from depression being prescribed these types of medications, instead of taking it solely for pain and then becoming depressed.  The use of the medication creates a euphoric effect, which masks the pain and feelings of depression, but if the medication is abused over a period of time, the long-term effects can cause more severe depression.