Mental health disorders and long-term opioid use among adolescents and young adults with chronic pain

Laura P Richardson, Joan E Russo, Wayne Katon, Carolyn A McCarty, Andrea DeVries, Mark J Edlund, Bradley C Martin, Mark Sullivan
Journal of Adolescent Health 2012, 50 (6): 553-8

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine the association between mental health disorders and subsequent risk for long-term opioid use among adolescents and young adults presenting with common chronic pain complaints (back pain, neck pain, headache, and arthritis/joint pain).

METHODS: Using claims data from January 1, 2001 to June 30, 2008, we conducted a longitudinal analysis of opioid use patterns among 13-24-year-old subjects presenting with a new episode of chronic pain. Long-term opioid use was defined as receiving >90 days of opioids within a 6-month period with no gap of >30 days in use of opioids in the 18 months after the first qualifying pain diagnosis. Mental health disorders were identified from claims in the 6 months before the first qualifying pain diagnosis.

RESULTS: Fifty-nine thousand seventy-seven youth met criteria for a new episode of chronic pain. Among these youth, 321 (.5%) met criteria for long-term opioid use, and 16,172 (27.4%) had some opioid use. After controlling for demographic and clinical factors, youth with preexisting mental health diagnoses had a 2.4-fold increased risk of subsequently receiving long-term opioids versus no opioids (odds ratio = 2.36, 95% confidence interval = 1.73-3.23) and a 1.8-fold increased likelihood of receiving long-term opioids versus some opioids (odds ratio = 1.83, 95% confidence interval = 1.34-2.50).

CONCLUSIONS: Mental health disorders are associated with increased risk for long-term opioid use among adolescents and emerging young adults. Further study is warranted to examine risks and benefits of long-term opioid use in this population.

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