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Opioids Double Rates of Suicides and Overdoses

Jan 07, 2019 1:18 pm

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that the rates of suicide and drug overdoses has doubled in the last 17 years, and that opioids are largely to blame.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention databases, researchers show that the sheer number of deaths from suicides and unintentional overdoses together rose from 41,364 in the year 2000 to 110,749 in 2017.

The rates of death has risen from 14.7 to 33.7 per 100,000 Americans.

Suicides and overdoses accounted for more than 41 percent of such deaths in 2017, and are implicated in more than two-thirds of all unintentional overdose deaths in 2017, and one-third of all overdose-related suicides.

The rise in overdose and suicide death rates over the past two decades paralleled the rise in opioid painkiller prescriptions, and later the rise in use of heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl.

Those at greatest risk for suicide and unintentional overdose includes men, who had death rates twice as high as women in 2017. Rates of suicide deaths were highest for white men and American Indian/Alaska Native men, and lower across the board for women.

For women, unintentional overdose deaths were much higher than suicide among white, black and Native American women under the age of 65.

The authors say it may be possible for the U.S. to reduce the death toll from both overdose and suicide through increased use of proven prevention and treatment strategies. 

They call for wider use of naloxone, methadone, buprenorphine, etc, done in concert with counseling around overdose and suicide prevention, treatment for any mental health conditions and naloxone distribution.

The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

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