Drug Related Suicide Attempts Soar in U.S.

Drug Related Suicide Attempts Soar in U.S.

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.

suicideprevention1For 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.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

There are 14 comments for this article
  1. ginbug at 6:13 pm

    Sallisue has absolutely no idea of what she is talking about!! But she is not alone in her thinking as “joe public” thinks the same. What is badly needed is EDUCATION for docs, pharms. & patients as there is so much BS misinformation!! Like knowing the difference between addiction vs dependence, chronic pain vs acute or post op pain, legitimate pain patients vs junkies & on & on! We are all very unique & what works for 1 person may not work for another & different pains have different causes. For me, advil gives me much more relief than opioids, when my tmj flares up! So we all have to find what works best for each of us & each type of pain! So until you can walk in my shoes, stop judging!! Be a part of the solution, instead of being a part of the problem!!!

  2. BL at 11:14 pm

    abigail, Florida State Law says nothing about PCP’s not being able to prescribe Controlled Substances.

  3. abigail at 6:06 am

    I have had neck and back pain for 6 years,after being rear ended by a pickup truck. At the ER I was told I had whip lash and would be OK in a few weeks!! lol, right. Unbeknownst to me, I have osteoarthritis all in my back, shoulders, you name it. Never hurt there before the accident. I have had no problems with getting pain meds from doctor,It is the pharmacists!! One I went to for 8 years refused to fill my pain meds! We had even talked about the steroid injections we both had, and how they did not help me. She was downright nasty to me, even though we had talked like we were neighbors. PCP, no controlled meds at all. They say by FL law they cannot prescribe them. Unbelievable.

  4. Red at 8:03 pm

    SalliSue, meditation, twelve-step programs, and journaling will not fix my labral tears, hip dysplasia, kyphosis, or vertebral problems that cause trouble breathing. Not too long ago, Barbara Ehrenreich said that the emphasis on positive thinking in the United States frequently stems from an inability to feel or express appropriate empathy for others who are going through genuine suffering, and she is dead on.

    Most people in chronic pain are sick and tired of being labeled drug seekers, and that is exactly what you’re doing. I personally would never write to that website that you suggested, not only because I am not looking for an illegitimate place to score drugs, but also because I know that there will be no doctors available to help me overcome my medical problems. It is a shameful thing to stigmatize people who are in genuine pain through no fault of their own and tell them that they need to admit that they are addicts. I don’t even take my medications every day!

    And a person does not always need drugs to commit suicide. There are other methods as well.

  5. Red at 7:57 pm

    Using medication to commit suicide does not necessarily mean that the suicide was caused by drug abuse. Furthermore, a person can stockpile enough antidepressants to commit suicide, and that would not be considered a drug-related suicide. A person can be prescribed medications for genuine problem, and decide to use them to end it all without ever having truly abused them.

  6. BL at 2:56 pm

    SalliSue, it is not good to lump everyone together. There is a world of difference between someonne who has diagnostic test results and long term functioning reports asking for the least amount of pain medication so they can take a shower, wash their hair and prepare a qucik meal as opposed to someone who doesn’t want to alter their life stylebecause they are beginning to feel the aches and pain of aging. And if you don’t believe this, then you know nothing about chronic severe pain that prevents someone from doing basic activities of daily living.

    The rise in the suicide rate will never be attributed to those who can’t access meds along with other forms of severe chronic pain management. The powers that bill are blind to this reality and they will say that the suicide rate has increased due to any other reasonput the real ones.

  7. GypsyBlu at 2:00 pm

    We have been pushed away from the doctors office so many times, what do people expect us to do? If our pain is not being treated correctly, and we keep getting told ” I find no cause for the pain you describe ” come back in a few weeks, let’s see if your doing better.

    Suicide is the only answer we see, when no one else takes us seriously!!
    Ending the pain is the only thing we think of 24/7

    Also, pain = no sleep or poor sleep. After weeks or months of little sleep will cause the suicide thoughts to pop up again.

  8. m2cats at 1:04 pm

    I think the increase in the number of suicides is directly related to new laws making it difficult, if not impossible for some poor people, for people to access their pain medication. Bureaucratic red tape, like having to get a new handwritten prescription every month makes it harder and harder to access opioid pain medications. I have been with a pain management doctor for years now, and work with a team of a doctor, physical therapist, and PhD counselor specializing in pain management. I am lucky. I am white and doctors will more readily write me a prescription when I need it. Many people of color are sent away without meds due to preconceived stereotypes and must suffer more and longer. If I did not have access to my medication, I would choose to kill myself to be rid of the pain. I understand, even though that hasn’t happened yet, it could happen sometime in the future.

    There is too much emphasis on the idea of addiction to pain meds that people who really need them are having trouble accessing them. This is literally killing them.

  9. SalliSue at 10:23 am

    I belong to a couple of websites where people write in their problems and the staff of volunteers tries to help them find solutions. Drug use, abuse and suicide is a real problem and the answer is not more drugs. We suggest meditation, therapy with qualified professionals, group therapy such as the free anonymous programs, yoga, journaling, and exercise. People who post to the site do not repost if we will not or cannot give them any drug advice or turn them on to other places to find their drugs.

  10. John Dozier at 7:32 am

    These articles are so anti/medication but with not offering a single better idea or better way. If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem Pat.

  11. BL at 11:08 am

    Mental health worker following up ? This is so rarely done. If a patient who has tried to commit suicide gets one follow up phone call or letter, they will be among the few. Of course it does depend on the facility you use and how good your insurance is.

  12. Mark Maginn at 9:35 am

    The 22% that didn’t receive follow up care isn’t explained in this study apparently. I wonder of those numbers how many went on to another attempt, how many attempted before this study, and does that # represent a failure of mental health workers to follow up or did that number decide not to seek or obtain further help?

  13. Marty at 4:53 am

    The problem is pain patients being jerked around so much now with meds being cut or taken away they are desperate to get rid of the pain so will take anything. I understand that there are a lot of drug abusers but there is also those of us who need them desperately need them. I have tried everything the pain Management doctors have made me try. I have had back injections that don’t work but they don’t listen. I had a hip injection that left me unable to walk for 3 years now but I have to continue to go there or they don’t think my pain is devastating. My PC doctor takes better care of me but now doctors are limited to what they can prescribe.
    Not me but I know many people are taking to the streets to get pain drugs because it’s the only way they can get them or afford them.

  14. BL at 7:59 pm

    Again, not enough detailed info. Also does “Visits involving” mean that if someone is taking a prescribed med that their ER visit is automatically classified as involving the use of that and the other meds they take ? How can anyone make any sense out of stats like this when neded info is not there ?