Study: Prescription painkillers involved in 97 percent of opioid-related suicides

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Suicides involving opioids more than doubled in 15 years, according to a new study — a far smaller increase than opioid deaths overall but one that nevertheless suggests a dangerous link between mental illness, pain, and intentional death.


The suicide findings paralleled patterns shown by earlier research for all opioid fatalities, the vast majority of them accidental: suicide death rates involving opioids are increasing faster among women (although they remain much lower among men) and middle-age Americans. Opioid-related suicides also are increasing faster among whites (who have long been more likely to die from both opioid use and suicide than non-whites).

The analysis — based on National Vital Statistics data on all fatalities in the United States between 1999 and 2014 — found that prescription painkillers were involved in 97.7 percent of opioid-related suicides. Heroin, a naturally derived opiate, was present in surprisingly few of them: just three-tenths of one percent. More than two-thirds of the deaths were at home.


The research team, led by the University of Washington in Seattle, pointed out that the vast majority of suicide deaths involve mental illness and that people with histories of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are more likely to be prescribed opioids — in higher doses and for longer time periods — for chronic pain compared with the rest of the population. Pain reliever prescriptions also are more common among those with substance abuse and borderline personality disorders.

The result is a difficult-to-break cycle of mental illness, pain, and access to the prescription drugs that can cause self-inflicted death.

“Opioids could potentially be a risk for suicide, as well as a means of suicide,” the researchers wrote in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.





There are many known risk factors for suicide, among them loss of a job, physical illness, feelings of  hopelessness, and access to lethal means; some medical guidelines recommend that physicians screen for the presence of firearms in the home.

“The accessibility of opioids should be considered an additional risk factor for those already at high risk for suicide,” the researchers concluded.






















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