US witnessed unprecedented rise in suicides involving opioids in 15 years, study finds

In 2015, around 33,000 deaths in the United States involved prescription opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The use of opioids to treat chronic pain has increased significantly in all parts of the country. Therefore, researchers have been exploring a possible relationship between access to opioids and increased risk of suicide. There are evidences supporting a correlation between greater use of opioids and increased risk of suicide. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in March 2017 revealed that suicides involving opioid use have witnessed a two-fold increase over the last 15 years.

The research carried out by the University of Washington (UW) made two revelations —most of the suicide deaths included people with mental illness and people with histories of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had a higher likelihood of being prescribed opioids in higher doses and for longer duration in order to treat chronic pain. In addition, people with substance abuse and borderline personality disorders were also likely to receive pain reliever prescriptions.

The study revealed that around 97.7 percent of opioid-related suicides involved prescription painkillers while heroin was involved in just three-tenths of one percent of total deaths by suicide. More than two-third deaths took place within homes. The study also reported higher rates of suicide death involving opioids among women than men and among middle age Americans than younger people.

The researchers warranted the need of considering the accessibility of opioids as an additional risk factor for people, who are vulnerable to suicide due to factors including loss of a job, feelings of hopelessness, and physical or mental illness.

Substantial evidence to support the findings

Another U.S. study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, assessed the role of opioid use in increasing the risk of suicidal ideation. The study was based on 41,053 participants from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Past-year frequency of prescription opioid misuse was grouped into 4 categories: none, less than monthly (varied between 1–11 times), monthly to weekly (could be 12–51 times), and weekly (52 times or more). The researchers discovered that prescription opioid misuse significantly contributed to suicidal ideation, suicide planning, and suicide attempts under each category.

A 2016 study “Opioid dose and risk of suicide,” investigated the causal association between opioid use and risk of suicide death among Veterans Health Affairs (VHA) patients receiving an opioid for chronic pain. Among total 2,601 suicide deaths during the observation period, opioid overdose contributed to 532 (20.5 percent) deaths. Though the researchers acknowledged the limitations of the study, they cited it as the first one to indicate an association between suicide deaths and opioid dose among people taking opioids for chronic pain. Higher the dose, higher was the risk of suicide mortality. The correlation might be related to two reasons, researchers suggested. First, under-treatment of pain in people with chronic pain conditions; and second, opioid use among people with co-occurring psychiatric disorders makes them more vulnerable to a potentially lethal means of suicide.

Treatment of dual diagnosis

Sound mental health contributes to overall well-being. Ostracizing people on the basis of their poor mental health will increase their problems, cause economic burden and pose threat to their lives. Those with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse problem need an integrated treatment approach, in which the patient receives treatment for both the problems simultaneously. Therefore, it is important to approach a clinical facility offering treatment for both the problems at the earliest.

Those looking for a comprehensive approach in addressing dual problems can contact the Dual Diagnosis Helpline and get information related to some evidence-based dual diagnosis rehab centers. You can reach us either through online chat or by calling our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 to know about dual diagnosis programs based on individual needs.

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