A Link between Prescription Drug Abuse and Mental Health

Prescription drug abuse has become a major public health and safety concern. While the addictive properties and physiological dependence to prescription drugs have been well documented, not much is known about the adverse mental health outcomes associated with prescription drug abuse. Earlier this year a study published in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics explored the relationship between non-medical use of prescription drugs (i.e. taking prescription drugs for non-medical purposes) and depression in adolescents. Researchers mined data from the 2008-2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to see if there was a link between prescription drug abuse and major depressive episodes among adolescents.

The results from this study suggest that there is a strong relationship between non-medical prescription drug use and major depressive episodes. To put this into perspective, the researchers state that adolescents who abuse prescription drugs are ~34% more likely to experience major depressive episodes compared to those who do not abuse prescription drugs.These findings are important because they highlight the relationship between prescription drug abuse and poor mental health outcomes. They suggest that prevention of non-medical prescription drug use might prevent, or improve, poor mental health outcomes. However, these results do not suggest what came first – prescription drug abuse or major depressive episodes. Just because this study found a relationship between the two, does not mean there is a cause and effect relationship. In other words, did the prescription drug abuse cause the depressive episodes? Or did an underlying depression lead to prescription drug abuse?

By Zach Patterson - Prevention Hub Canada