More adolescent girls than boys experienced nonfatal opioid overdose and reported baseline levels of anxiety, depression, and self-harm, according to data from a retrospective cohort study of more than 20,000 youth in the United States.
Previous studies have identified sex-based differences in opioid overdose such as a higher prevalence of co-occurring psychiatric disorders in women compared with men, wrote Sarah M. Bagley, MD, of Boston University, and colleagues. “However, few studies have examined whether such sex-based differences in opioid overdose risk extend to the population of adolescents and young adults,” they said.
In a retrospective cohort study published in JAMA Network Open, the researchers identified 20,312 commercially insured youth aged 11-24 years who experienced a nonfatal opioid overdose between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2017, and reviewed data using the IBM MarketScan Commercial Database. The average age of the study population was 20 years and approximately 42% were female.
Females aged 11-16 years had a significantly higher incidence of nonfatal opioid overdose (60%) compared with males, but this trend reversed at age 17 years, after which the incidence of nonfatal opioid overdose became significantly higher in males. “Our finding that females younger than 17 years had a higher incidence of NFOD is consistent with epidemiologic data that have indicated changes in alcohol and drug prevalence among female youths,” the researchers wrote.
Overall, 57.8% of the cohort had mood and anxiety disorders, 12.8% had trauma- or stress-related disorders, and 11.7% had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
When analyzed by sex, females had a significantly higher prevalence than that of males of mood or anxiety disorders (65.5% vs. 51.9%) trauma or stress-related disorders (16.4% vs. 10.1%) and attempts at suicide or self-harm (14.6% vs. 9.9%). Males had significantly higher prevalence than that of females of opioid use disorder (44.7% vs. 29.2%), cannabis use disorder (18.3% vs. 11.3%), and alcohol use disorder (20.3% vs. 14.4%).
“Although in our study, female youths had a lower prevalence of all substance use disorders, including OUD [opioid use disorder], and a higher prevalence of mood and trauma-associated disorders, both male and female youths had a higher prevalence of psychiatric illness and substance use disorder than youths in the general population,” the researchers noted.
The study findings were limited by several factors including the inclusion only of youth with commercial insurance, with no uninsured or publicly insured youth, and only those youth who sought health care after a nonfatal opioid overdose, the researchers noted. The prevalence of substance use and mental health disorders may be over- or underdiagnosed, and race was not included as a variable because of unreliable data, they added. The database also did not allow for gender identity beyond sex as listed by the insurance carrier, they said.
However, the results indicate significant differences in the incidence of nonfatal opioid overdose and accompanying mental health and substance use disorders based on age and sex, they said.
“These differences may have important implications for developing effective interventions to prevent first-time NFOD and to engage youths in care after an NFOD,” they concluded.
The study was supported by grants to several researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, and the Charles A. King Trust. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.