A new study published in journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that children of parents who chronically use prescription opioids have an increased risk of suicide.
The study authors examined 121,306 parents who either did or did not chronically use prescription opioids, defined by whether they had prescriptions filled for more than 365 days of opioids, and their children ages 10-19.
About 0.14 percent of children whose parents did not use opioids attempted to kill themselves. That number more than doubled to 0.37 percent for children with parents that used prescription opioids.
The findings were unsurprising to the three authors of the study, said lead author Dr. David Brent. A link between adolescent suicide and substance use has already been established, Brent said.
Brent said he studies adolescent suicide. He and his co-authors performed the study to clarify a stronger link between opioid use and suicide. The adolescent rate of suicide is increasing, but researchers do not know why, he said.
Access to opioids in the household did not have an effect on the suicide rate, nor did the fact that parents were using prescription pills, according to the study. Brent and his co-authors compared parents using prescription opioids to those using sleep medicine, he said.
“It’s not just having pills in the house, there’s something else going on,” he said.
The authors also controlled for parental depression. However, they did not look at the possible confounding factor of chronic pain or the reasons that the parents were prescribed opioids, Brent said. It is unclear if the parents’ underlying medical conditions affected the suicide rate.
The reason why the suicide rate is increased for children with parents who use prescription opioids might be because they are chronically using prescription opioids and are not able to be as present, Brent said.
“Not that they are bad parents, but they are not as effective as they should be. And in some kids, maybe kids that are more vulnerable, that makes a difference,” he said.
The study’s findings should be used by general physicians and mental health professionals to better treat children, Brent said. This includes asking parents about their prescription opioid use at doctor appointments for their children, he said.
Prescription opioid use is on a decrease, and the study looked at use between 2010 and 2016. Although fatal opioid overdoses increased in 2016 and 2018, most are due to illicit opioids, especially the introduction of fentanyl to heroin.
Brent said doctors are more careful to prescribe prescription opioids as their addictive nature is better documented and publicized.
Frederick County overdoses
While prescription opioid use may be declining, illicit opioid use continues to lead to at least five fatalities every month in Frederick County. That does not include other deaths that may be linked to opioid use, like Brent’s findings. The following facts show the rate and percentage at which overdoses have occurred in Frederick County and Maryland:
- Frederick County saw four more fatal overdoses in 2018 than in 2017, according to the first annual report released by Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center.
- There were a total of 371 prescription opioid-related deaths in Maryland in 2018, a decrease from 2017, which saw 413, and 2016, which had 418, according to the report.
- In Maryland overall, heroin-related deaths began to decrease in 2017 and 2018, with 2018 seeing 256 fewer deaths due to heroin. In contrast, fentanyl deaths continued to climb. There were 272 more fentanyl-related deaths in 2018 versus 2017, according to the report.
- Frederick County had 70 opioid-intoxication related deaths in 2018, up four from 2017, according to the report. When the data was age-adjusted, Frederick had 21.8 deaths per 100,000 people, just more than the state average of 20.7 per 100,000 people.
- As of May 2, a total 23 fatal overdoses and 90 non-fatal overdoses occurred this year in Frederick County, according to statistics provided by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. That number is 40 percent of the number of fatal overdoses in 2018, which was higher than the previous year.
- With 23 fatal overdoses in just over four months, at least five fatal overdoses happen every month in Frederick County.
- About 5.83 intoxication-related deaths happened in Frederick County every month of 2018.