The present study examined associations between nonmedical use of prescription opioids and serious psychological distress, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts, and tested whether age and sex moderate these relationships.
Data on 5582 adolescents were obtained from a representative province-wide survey of students in grades 7 through 12 (mean age: 15.3 years) across Ontario, Canada. Nonmedical use of prescribed opioids in the last 12 months was categorized in “no use”, “infrequent use (1–2 times)”, and “regular use (3 times or more)”. Logistic regression analysis was adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, subjective socioeconomic status, and other substance use (i.e., tobacco cigarette, alcohol, cannabis).
Overall, regular nonmedical use of prescription opioids was strongly associated with greater odds of serious psychological distress (OR: 3.47; 95% CI 1.42–8.45), suicidal ideation (OR: 2.73; 95% CI 1.84–4.05), and suicide attempts (OR: 3.21; 95% CI 1.40–7.37). However, infrequent nonmedical use of prescription opioids was associated with greater odds of serious psychological distress (OR: 1.79; 95% CI 1.08–2.98) and suicidal ideation (OR: 1.63; 95% CI 1.20–2.21), but not suicide attempts (OR: 1.84; 95% CI 0.76–4.45). Age-stratified analyses showed that both infrequent (OR: 1.61; 95% CI 1.01–2.58) and regular (OR: 3.40; 95% CI 2.11–5.46) nonmedical use of prescription opioids was strongly associated with greater odds of suicidal ideation among 15- to 20-year-olds, but not 11- to 14-year-olds.
These findings suggest that nonmedical use of prescription opioids is strongly associated with mental health problems among adolescents. Future research using a longitudinal design is needed to confirm age differences and temporality.
Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute