In the past 15 years, opioid abuse has dramatically increased among adults in the United States. During the same time frame, there has been a steep rise in suicide attempts among young people. A new study led by researchers at the University of Chicago has identified a link between these two epidemics.
“Until now, there has been little focus on the association between the increase in opioid use among adults and the risk of suicidal behavior by their children,” said study senior author Dr. Robert D. Gibbons.
“We theorized such a link was plausible because parental substance abuse is a known risk factor for suicide attempts by their children. In addition, depression and suicide attempts by parents – which are known to be related to suicidal behavior in their offspring – are more common among adults who abuse opioids.”
The investigation was focused on data from 2010 to 2016 involving more than 240,000 parents between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Half of the subjects had filled opioid prescriptions for at least 365 days, and the other half had no history of using the drug during that time.
For the same six-year period, suicide attempts were examined among the participants’ 330,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19. The study revealed that opioid use by a parent is associated with double the risk of suicide attempts by their children.
“These findings demonstrate that opioid use by a parent or parents doubles the risk for suicidal behavior by their children,” said study co-author Dr. David A. Brent. “The epidemics of adult opiate abuse and child suicidal behavior appear to be linked, and the disturbing upward trends in mortality due to opiates and due to child suicide may have common roots.”
The researchers are calling for improved diagnosis and treatment of parents who use opioids as well as mental health screening for their children. “These actions could help reverse the upward trend in deaths due to the twin epidemics of suicide and opioid overdose,” said Dr. Gibbons.
The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.