Our Opioid Crisis is perhaps a Side Effect of Our Mental Health Crisis

There is a lot of money invested to address our current opioid crisis. We discuss an opioid strategy and implement measures at various levels.  We distribute naloxone kits through our community pharmacies, we provide support through academic detailing services at physicians’ offices and we increase awareness of the risks and harm with long term opioid use in public education campaigns. On many levels, all these activities are addressing our ongoing opioid crisis. But if we dig further, we are also looking at our mental health crisis that desperately needs more attention too.

Most patients don’t plan on getting themselves dependent on high dose opioids. There are often triggering factors. We sometimes blame it on the prescribers. But in reality, many patients who somehow become dependent on opioids may have underlying depression that have not been addressed. In other times, patients have long history of post traumatic stress disorder or childhood traumas that have not been looked into.  These are complicated issues that cannot be addressed in a quick 30 minutes visit.  Sometimes, neither the patients nor the clinicians are ready to tackle the issues.  An easier coping mechanism may be through medications – through opioids that may provide temporary relief of “pain”.

As we work with our patients to address their high opioid use, we need to also look at their overall mental health. Are they potentially be coping with depression and anxiety through their opioids? Is their a component of opioid use disorder that needs to be further investigated? Are we not aware of childhood abuse because we have never asked the question?

As a pharmacist, I help to solve the easier part of the problem by providing recommendations on how to taper opioids slowly. But I often see the more complicated problem with’ mental health in these patients that don’t necessarily have quick and easy answers. I am happy that we are looking at the opioid crisis seriously but we also have a mental health crisis that needs our attention too.

While I am not an expert in mental health, there are many resources available for everyone to access. Below are some mental health apps or online supports for patients:

  • Moodgym is an interactive self-help book designed to help people learn and practise skills to prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • The American Depression and Anxiety Association have also made recommendations for specific mental health apps. Click here to see their apps.

Let’s not forget to pay attention to our patients’ mental health too. Thank you for reading my post.



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My name is Cynthia Leung and I am a practicing pharmacist in Kingston Ontario, Canada. This blog is for me to share my ideas, opinions and perspectives on how medications are used in our health care system. Note that these posts are my own opinions and do not represent the opinions of my current or former employers and / or organizations that I may belong to. Any possible case scenarios described in my posts would be modified to maintain patient confidentiality. This blog is not a platform for professional advise for patients or health care providers and the content is not meant to support any clinical decisions or replace professional opinions. Also the images are either taken or created by the author, or adapted with permission. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts!

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