Is Opiate Treatment for Depression Right for You?

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Some people suffer from serious chemical imbalances in the brain, resulting in debilitating depression symptoms.  While depression is mainly treated with antidepressants, sometimes certain patients do not respond favorably to these medications.

There have been studies that support prescribing opiates to those suffering from significant depression.  Working with a skilled team of clinicians is the only way to determine if opiate treatment for depression is the best option.

What are Antidepressants?

There are two different types of antidepressants:  selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and seratonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).  These drugs help people manage depression symptoms by correcting the transport system of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.  These drugs alleviate depressions symptoms:

  • feelings of hopelessness
  • thoughts of suicide
  • lifelessness
  • general pervasive feelings of unhappiness

What are Opiates?

Treatment for Depression

Opiate medication may be considered when antidepressants prove ineffective.

Opiates are usually prescribed to relieve pain.  Morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl are commonly prescribed pain relievers for everything from surgical pain to cancer.  Pain messages from the brain are regulated when these drugs are administered to lessen or block the neurotransmitters that send pain messages.

How are Opiates Used to Treat Depression?

There is limited research available regarding the use of opiates to treat major depression.  However, one thing is very clear.  People who suffer from significant depression symptoms often self-medicate with opiates.  Stoll and Reuter, researchers from Boston, looked at several anecdotal cases of patients who received no relief from standard antidepressant therapy. Opiates were administered to relieve psychic pain in much the same way they are used to relieve physical pain.

Traditional Depression Treatment

People need not suffer with depression.  There are many effective treatments available to help.  A combination approach is best and may include the following:

  • antidepressant medication
  • psychotherapy
  • diet
  • exercise
  • support systems

Antidepressants versus Opiates

Chronically depressed individuals suffer from a lack of serotonin and lower levels of norepinephrine in the brain.  Antidepressants regulate brain chemistry.  Opiates work by binding to neurotransmitters to block pain receptors.  Depression can sometimes manifest in physical sensations of pain; however, most clinicians agree that managing the root cause of depression is necessary for lasting recovery.

Cautions Regarding Opiates

The difficulty with using opiates for management of severe depression is a propensity toward abuse and addiction.  People using opiates regularly build a tolerance to these drugs fairly quickly.  Further, overdose is a grave concern with opiate abuse.

Why Has Prescription Addiction Become So Popular?

When Might Opiates Be Considered?

For serious depression that is resistant to traditional treatments and medications, opiates may be a viable option.  Consulting with a competent treatment team is important in making this decision.  The following questions should be considered by professionals prior to prescribing opiates for depression:

  • Is there a history of opiate abuse or dependence?
  • How many other treatment options or therapies have been tried?
  • Could there be other underlying mental illnesses?
  • Are there any physical conditions that opiates could adversely affect?

Next Steps

In order to determine the best course of treatment for severe chronic depression, a complete team of professionals should be consulted.  Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other support professionals are required to insure the best treatment options for those suffering with debilitating depression.  Just such a team of caring individuals awaits your call 800-442-6158 Who Answers? .  Don’t let you or a loved one suffer.  Call now to determine if opiate treatment for depression is right for you, or if some other therapy would be the best option.


American Psychological Association. (2016). Understanding depression and effective treatment.  Retrieved from:

MacDonald, A. (2010). New insights into treatment resistant depression.  Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from:

Pinsky, L. Depression and medication. Columbia University. Retrieved from:

Rosenblum, A., Marsch, L., Joseph, H. & Portoney, R. (2009). Opioids and the treatment of chronic pain:  Controversies, current status and future directions. Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology. 16(5).  405-416. Retrieved from:

Stoll, A. & Reuter, S. (1999).  Treatment augmentation with opiates in severe and refractory major depression. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 156(12). 2017-2017. Retrieved from:

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