Opioids and Hormone Levels

Misuse of prescription opioid painkillers such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin is growing at an alarming rate in the U.S., leading to addiction and, increasingly, use of cheaper, dangerous alternatives such as heroin.

Opioids may also cause another serious problem: abnormal levels of hormones such as testosterone (the primary male sex hormone), cortisol (which helps the body respond to stress and low blood-glucose concentration) and prolactin (which enables women to produce breast milk).

A 2015 analysis looked at research conducted between 1980 and 2014 and indicated that routine use of opioids can disrupt hormone levels – and many physicians are unaware of this potential side effect. As a result, patients don’t know about possible consequences that might change their medication decisions.

“Some symptoms of hormone suppression while on opiates may include fatigue, insomnia, depression or decreased libido,” said Dr. Gus Lowry of Balcones Pain Consultants. “It is important to discuss these issues with your doctor because your hormone levels can be easily checked with a blood test. Then, you can decide with your physician whether to decrease your use of opiates, stop using opiates or replace hormones that are low.”

Opioid painkiller prescriptions had been skyrocketing in the U.S. The 2015 study, published by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, cites research indicating the number prescriptions increased 149 percent between 1997 and 2009. However, the New York Times reported last year that new data indicates opioid painkiller prescriptions have declined 12 to 18 percent in recent years, signaling that this long-running epidemic may be peaking and physicians are heeding repeated warnings about their highly addictive nature.