Prevalence and Childhood Precursors of Opioid Use in the Early Decades of Life.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Importance: Opioid use disorder and opioid deaths have increased dramatically in young adults in the US, but the age-related course or precursors to opioid use among young people are not fully understood. Objective: To document age-related changes in opioid use and study the childhood antecedents of opioid use by age 30 years in 6 domains of childhood risk: sociodemographic characteristics; school or peer problems; parental mental illness, drug problems, or legal involvement; substance use; psychiatric illness; and physical health. Design, Setting, and Participants: This community-representative prospective longitudinal cohort study assessed 1252 non-Hispanic White individuals and American Indian individuals in rural counties in the central Appalachia region of North Carolina from January 1993 to December 2015. Data were analyzed from January 2019 to January 2020. Exposures: Between ages 9 and 16 years, participants and their parents were interviewed up to 7 times using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment and reported risk factors in 6 risk domains. Main Outcomes and Measures: Participants were assessed again at ages 19, 21, 25, and 30 years for nonheroin opioid use (any and weekly) and heroin use using the structured Young Adult Psychiatric Assessment. Results: Of 1252 participants, 342 (27%) were American Indian. By age 30 years, 322 participants had used a nonheroin opioid (24.2%; 95% CI, 21.8-26.5), 155 had used a nonheroin opioid weekly (8.8%; 95% CI, 7.2-10.3), and 95 had used heroin (6.6%; 95% CI, 5.2-7.9). Childhood risk markers for later opioid use included male sex, tobacco use, depression, conduct disorder, cannabis use, having peers exhibiting social deviance, parents with legal involvement, and elevated systemic inflammation. In final models, childhood tobacco use, depression, and cannabis use were most robustly associated with opioid use in young adulthood (ages 19 to 30 years). Chronic depression and dysthymia were strongly associated with any nonheroin opioid use (OR. 5.43; 95% CI, 2.35-12.55 and OR, 7.13; 95% CI, 1.99-25.60, respectively) and with weekly nonheroin opioid use (OR, 8.89; 95% CI, 3.61-21.93 and OR, 11.51; 95% CI, 3.05-42.72, respectively). Among young adults with opioid use, those with heroin use had the highest rates of childhood psychiatric disorders and comorbidities. Conclusions and Relevance: Childhood tobacco use and chronic depression may be associated with impaired reward system functioning, which may increase young adults' vulnerability to opioid-associated euphoria. Preventing and treating early substance use and childhood mental illness may help prevent later opioid use.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Shanahan, L; Hill, SN; Bechtiger, L; Steinhoff, A; Godwin, J; Gaydosh, LM; Harris, KM; Dodge, KA; Copeland, WE

Published Date

  • March 1, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 175 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 276 - 285

PubMed ID

  • 33369615

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC7770613

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2168-6211

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.5205


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States