Suicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide, and the likelihood of attempts suicide may be higher when teens are abusing prescription drugs, a Chinese study suggests.
To explore the relationship between the risk of suicide and abuse of opiate prescription and sedatives, researchers surveyed about 3,300 Chinese teenagers once when they were about 14 years age and again one year later.
Adolescents who reported having used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at the start of the study drugs were nearly three times more likely to report a suicide attempt, a year later, and the risk was more than tripled for young abusing opiates, researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics.
“baseline opioid misuse, misuse of sedatives, and the nonmedical use of… Prescription was positively associated with suicidal ideation later,” said lead study author Dr. Lan Guo of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
Those thoughts were more likely to become suicide attempts with the “baseline opioid misuse and nonmedical use of any prescription,” Guo added via email.
Less than 3 percent of teens reported misuse of any prescription drug, with 1.8 percent saying they used opiates or stimulants for non-medical reasons and 1 percent of sedative abuse reports .
Overall, 17 percent of respondents reported suicidal thoughts, and 3 percent reported suicide attempts in the survey at the end of the study.
The relationship between drug abuse and suicide remained even after researchers accounted for teens who reported experiencing depression at baseline.
Although the study did not examine why the abuse of prescription drugs and other drugs may be linked to an increased risk of suicide, it is possible that these drugs can alter moods of adolescents or lower inhibitions in a way that allows to flourish suicidal impulses, the authors conclude.
Limitations of the study include its dependence on adolescents and remember accurately report both drug use and suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide, the authors note.
However, it is surprising that the same teenagers who are prone to abuse drugs would also be susceptible to suicidal thoughts, said Dr. Bernard Biermann, a researcher adolescent psychiatry at University Hospital CS Mott Children of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“Substance abuse may be associated with causes depression and anxiety, but it is also a means of self-medication,” Biermann, who was not involved in the study, said in a telephone interview.
It is essential that parents keep an eye on teenagers changes in behavior beyond temporary moodiness to pose a bigger problem, said Dr. Benjamin Shain, a researcher at the University of Chicago and director of child and adolescent psychiatry at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
“Growth has always been difficult and life is now even more complicated,” Shain, who was not involved in the study, said by email. “Parents should take serious severe or persistent anxiety and changes in behavior, such as insulation or falling grades, and take your child to your primary care physician or a professional with any sign of mental health.”
Parents should also try to make it harder for teens to get their hands on what can harm themselves, said Dr. Yolanda Evans, a specialist in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, who he was not involved in the study.
“When possible, avoid things readily available that teens can use impulsively to end his life,” Evans said by email. “Old narcotics or drugs should be discarded (look for the pharmacy recover options).”