The number of drug related suicide attempts has soared in the U.S. in recent years – with alcohol, anti-anxiety medications and sleeping pills playing a leading role, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Opioid pain medications were involved in less than a third of the suicide attempts.
Between 2005 and 2011, the number of emergency room visits for drug related suicide attempts increased 51%, from 151,477 visits to 228,277 visits by both men and women.
For middle aged older adults between the ages of 45 and 64, the number of drug related suicide attempts more than doubled during that period.
“Suicide continues to take lives without regard to age, income, education, social standing, race, or gender.” said SAMHSA Administrator, Pamela S. Hyde. “It is a growing risk in far too many segments of our society. We must all do everything we can to combat this preventable and needless loss of life and the devastation it inflicts upon friends, families and communities across our nation.”
If any drug is involved in a suicide attempt – even if a gun, knife or other type of self-inflicted wound is involved – the government considers the attempted suicide “drug related.”
For people in the 45 to 64 age group, 96% of the attempted suicides involved prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs:
- 48% anti-anxiety or insomnia medications
- 39% alcohol
- 29% opioid pain medications
- 22% antidepressants
- 11% illicit drugs
While opioid painkillers were only involved in less than a third of the attempted suicides, their use is becoming more common. Narcotic pain relievers were involved in 3,603 emergency room visits in 2005 and 8,939 visits in 2011, an increase of 148 percent.
Visits involving benzodiazepines—a class of drugs used to treat anxiety—increased 120% from 10,709 visits in 2005 to 23,588 visits in 2011.
Suicide attempts involving alcohol doubled from 10,813 visits in 2005 to 22,763 visits in 2011.
There were no significant increases for visits involving illicit drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana.
The SAMHSA report did not explore the reason behind the rise in suicide attempts, but did suggest that suicide prevention programs focus more on middle-aged Americans. Current suicide prevention strategies are primarily targeted towards teenagers, young adults, and the elderly.
Despite the reported increase in drug-related suicide attempts among patients aged 45 to 64, about 22% of those patients did not receive follow-up care after their visit to the emergency department.