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Analyzing behavioral trends of teens

Study led by Parkinson faculty examines the prevalence of opioid misuse, social support, and suicide attempts among American Indian/Alaska Native high school students

March 30, 2022

Suicide among young people continues to be a significant challenge to public health in the U.S. Between 2009 and 2018, suicide death rates among teens between 14 and 18 years old increased by 61.7 percent. Among those most affected were American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth.

Not only is suicide the second leading cause of death among young AI/AN people, they also face stark inequities when it comes to opioid misuse and social support. Research into these behavioral trends among AI/AN youth is notably lacking. But, a recent study1 published in Biomed Central Public Health takes a closer look.

The study, authored by Fares Qeadan, PhD, MS, associate professor, public health sciences, Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, and other co-authors from Utah, New Mexico, and Michigan, characterizes the prevalence of opioid misuse, social support, and suicide attempts among AI/AN high school students in New Mexico, which has one of the largest proportions of AI/AN residents in the U.S.

It found that while the prevalence of suicide attempt did not change significantly over time, it was higher among women between 2011 and 2019, students who identified as LGBTQ+, and the following groups: people who misused opioids, received low social support, had a mother with less than a high school education, and received below average grades.

While the study did not show a significant trend for suicide attempt, it revealed a significant decreasing trend in opioid misuse between 2009 through 2017 which was followed by a significant increase from 8.8% in 2017 to 12.9% in 2019. A higher level of maternal education (college or above), and an A or B school grade performance were protective against both opioid misuse and suicide attempt.

“Given the protective effects of high social support (at home, school, and the community), better school performance, higher level of maternal education, and not being engaged in opioid misuse against suicide attempt, we recommend that more resources be directed to AI/AN youth community centers, school-based learning and health centers, continuing education learning opportunities for AI/AN mothers, and behavioral health care services,” says Qeadan.

1This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [3R61DA049382- 02S2, 2020] / National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)