Depression and Buprenorphine Treatment in Patients with Non-cancer Pain and Prescription Opioid Dependence without Comorbid Substance Use Disorders

J Affect Disord. 2021 Jan 1;278:563-569. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.09.089. Epub 2020 Sep 28.


Background: Depression occurs in 40% of patients with prescription opioid dependence (POD). Existing studies of the association between depression and buprenorphine (BUP) treatment for POD are inconsistent and often include patients with comorbid substance use disorders (SUD). We estimated the association between depression and BUP use in patients with pain and POD and free of comorbid SUD.

Methods: Optum® de-identified Electronic Health Record dataset from 2010 to 2018 was used to identify 5,529 patients with chronic pain, with and without depression, receiving prescription opioids and free of substance use disorder diagnoses for one year before POD diagnoses. Unadjusted and adjusted Cox proportional hazard models and negative binomial regression models were computed to estimate the association between depression and time to BUP start, number of BUP prescriptions in the year after BUP start and time to >30 day BUP gap.

Results: Patients' mean age was 52.4 (SD±15.3) years, 62% were female and 84% were white and 4.9% (n=270) started BUP. Depression was not associated with BUP initiation.. Among BUP starters, depression vs. no depression, was significantly associated with receiving 29% fewer BUP prescriptions (RR=0.71; 95%CI: 0.51-0.98) and an increased risk for > 30 day gap (HR=1.76; 95%CI:1.01-3.09).

Limitations: Missing data prevented measuring BUP dose.

Conclusions: Depression is likely associated with earlier BUP treatment dropout. Depression related medication non-adherence or possible worsening of depression following BUP taper could explain results. Research is needed to determine if depression severity is associated with BUP dose trajectories and multi-year BUP retention..

Keywords: Buprenorphine; Dependence; Depression; Epidemiology; Iatrogenic; Prescription opioid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Buprenorphine* / therapeutic use
  • Depression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Prescriptions
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Buprenorphine