A cross sectional study of non-medical use of prescription opioids and suicidal behaviors among adolescents

Nate Wright, Marizen R. Ramirez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Non-medical use of prescription opioids (NMUPO), defined as taking an opioid in a manner or dose other than prescribed, taking someone else’s, or for the feelings that it produces, has been reported by 5 to 20% of adolescents, and is associated with a two fold increase in suicidal behaviors among adolescents. Adolescents with long-term health problems (LTHP) have poorer mental health and may seek NMUPO for pain relief that is not obtained through standard care. For this study, we measured the association between NMUPO and suicidal behaviors, and further assessed effect modification by LTHP hypothesizing the association between NMUPO and suicidal behaviors was stronger for adolescents with LTHP. Findings: For students with LTHP, 13.5% reported suicide ideation, while 8.0% of students without LTHP reported suicide ideation. For suicide attempt, 4.4% of students with LTHP reported a suicide attempt, while 2.1% of students without LTHP reported a suicide attempt. The proportion of students who reported suicide ideation and attempts increased with higher occasions of NMUPO. Adjusted logistic regression models found increased odds of suicide ideation (OR (95% CI): 1–5 occasions: 2.3 (2.0–2.6); > 6 occasions: 2.7 (2.2–3.8)) and suicide attempts (OR (95% CI): 1–5 occasions: 3.2 (2.7–3.7); > 6 occasions: 4.1 (3.1–5.3)) for students who reported NMUPO. An interaction term for NMUPO and LTHP was then added to the models. Effect modification was not present on the multiplicative scale. On the additive scale, evidence of effect modification was observed: higher risk was indicated for students with LTHP versus no LTHP for both suicide ideation (Predicted risk (95%CI): > 6 occasions NMUPO, LTHP: 0.24 (0.18–0.29); No LTHP: 0.16 (0.13–0.18)) and attempt (Predicted risk (95%CI): 1–5 occasions NMUPO, LTHP: 0.08 (0.07–0.10); No LTHP: 0.05 (0.05–0.06); > 6 occasions NMUPO, LTHP: 0.11 (0.07–0.15); No LTHP: 0.06 (0.05–0.08)). Conclusions: The results affirmed that NMUPO is associated with suicidal behaviors among adolescents. A pattern also emerged of higher risk of suicidal behaviors for those with LTHP who reported NMUPO. Areas of further inquiry should explore chronic medical or pain conditions as possible modifying pathways that could exacerbate the effects of NMUPO on suicidal behaviors specific to an adolescent population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
JournalInjury Epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (award number T42OH008434) to the Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health as part of the Education and Research Centers funding.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Adolescent
  • Analgesics, opioid
  • Pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide, attempted


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