Given that chronic pain patients experience significant rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, access to prescription opioids compounds the risk of death by suicide. These patients may experience heightened opioid craving and exhibit increased cue-reactivity to stimuli associated with past opioid use when suicidal ideation produces negative affective states. Because both opioids and suicidal behavior are used to alleviate emotional and physical pain through a process of negative reinforcement, elucidating factors that mediate this association may yield insight into suicide risk among chronic pain patients. This study examined the relationship between suicidal ideation and opioid craving and cue-reactivity, and tested opioid self-medication as a mediator of associations between those factors after controlling for the impact of pain severity. A sample of 115 chronic pain patients provided demographic and clinical information on the Obsessive Compulsive Drug Use Scale, the Current Opioid Misuse Measure, and the Brief Pain Inventory before completing an opioid dot probe task in which heart rate variability was recorded. As hypothesized, suicidal ideation was positively correlated with subjective opioid craving and physiological cue-reactivity. Self-medication significantly mediated the association between suicidal ideation, craving, and cue-reactivity. As opioids relieve the emotional pain linked with suicidal thoughts, chronic pain patients with higher levels of suicidal ideation may experience more intense opioid craving and exhibit heightened physiological cue-reactivity when compared to patients with low levels of suicidal ideation.
- heart rate variability
- opioid misuse