Study: Opioid Misuse Raises Teen Suicide Risk, Especially for Asians


In a new study, researchers found that opioid misuse was a risk factor for teen suicide in the U.S., especially for Asian youth.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, and in recent years there has been an increase in risk of suicide for teens alongside the rise of the opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, research shows that minority youth are less likely to receive treatments for opioid use disorders.

The new study, led by Professor Keith Tsz-Kit Chan of Hunter College, shows the need for youth mental health services that focus on the impact of the opioid epidemic, and for culturally specific programs that help underserved populations. The research appears in Child and Adolescent Social Work.

The researchers analyzed data on people ages 12 to 17 from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They found that youth of all races who misused prescription opioids had a significantly higher chance of having had a suicide plan in the last year, and that this connection was stronger for Asian adolescents than nonwhite Hispanic, Black, or non-Hispanic white adolescents. Asian youth who misused prescription opioids also had the highest rates of suicide attempts.

According to the analysis, similar proportions of males and females misused opioids, but the females had higher odds of all three “suicidality” factors, including serious thoughts of suicide, having a suicide plan, and making an attempt. This means that minority females “may be particularly vulnerable to adverse mental health outcomes,” the authors wrote.

Future research needs to dig even deeper into specifics, the authors say. Terms like “Asian” include many different ethnic groups with different cultures and reasons for immigrating to the U.S. and each group might have different risk factors and protective factors. The hope is that a better understanding of these can lead to more effective prevention and harm-reduction efforts.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Race Differences in Opioid Misuse and Adolescent Suicidality
Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 2020

Work By

Keith Tsz-Kit Chan (Assistant Professor, Social Work) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Hunter College