An alarming 51 percent of opioid prescriptions are written for people with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses according to a new study. And that's a huge problem because people with mood disorders are prone to opioid addiction and overdose - which claimed the lives of 33,091 Americans in 2015 alone.

The study - which will be published on July 6 in the 'Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine' - says that 115 million prescriptions for opiates are written each year in America. Of those, 60 million go to adults with mental health conditions, making them a startlingly overrepresented demographic given that less than one-fifth of Americans have mental health conditions.

"Despite representing only 16 percent of the adult population, adults with mental health disorders receive more than half of all opioid prescriptions distributed each year in the United States," said the study's lead author Matthew Davis - an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

Prescribing opioids to people with mental health conditions can end in tragedy since those patients are particularly susceptible to opioid addiction.

"Because of the vulnerable nature of patients with mental illness, such as their susceptibility for opioid dependency and abuse, this finding warrants urgent attention to determine if the risks associated with such prescribing are balanced with therapeutic benefits," said the study's co-author Brian Sites, an anesthesiologist working at New Hampshire's Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

One alternative medication for these patients is medical marijuana, which is being used in some states to treat physical ailments like chronic pain and mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. Recent studies suggest marijuana could also wean people off opioid dependence, so if patients with mood disorders become opioid-dependent, they could turn to cannabis as a potential treatment for both their primary conditions as well as the side-effects of their medication.

Unfortunately, the federal government still denies the medical value of cannabis and considers it as dangerous as heroin and cocaine even though nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. So many Americans have no choice but to use dangerous opioids because safer medications like cannabis aren't an option.