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Children of Opioid Users Have Higher Suicide Risk

September 11th, 2019

Over the past 15 years, the rate of suicide in young people and the rate of death due to opioid overdose in adults have both dramatically increased, and new research suggests that the two may be related. David Brent, MD, and his team at the University of Pittsburgh found that children of parents who use prescription opioids are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.    

Researchers used a medical claims database of privately-insured adults from 2010-2016 to identify parents who had filled opioid prescriptions for at least one year and compared them with parents who had not filled opioid prescriptions. A total of 148,395 children aged 10-19 had parents who did not use opioids and 184,142 children in the same age group had parents who did use opioids. In the group of children with parents who did not use opioids, 212 (0.14%) attempted suicide; in the group of children with parents who did use opioids, 678 (0.37%) attempted suicide—a rate that is more than double. 

Although the researchers were unable to link parental opioid use and completed suicides in children because they did not have access to death records, the authors note that suicidal attempts are the single strongest predictor of eventual youth suicide. Given these findings, Dr. Brent and his team suggest the need for better ways to identify and treat parents who have substance use disorder and better ways to screen children of parents who use opioids to ensure that they receive the care they need. The researchers also mentioned that although the rise of social media during this time period is often mentioned as a possible explanation for the increase in suicidal behavior in young people, the increase in social media is worldwide but the increase in suicides “is relatively unique to the United States, compared with other wealthy developed countries.” 

Learn about research studies related to Mental Health and Behavior in children at Pitt+Me.