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Opioids Linked to Rising Suicide Rate

Suicide deaths now surpass road fatalities, and the availability of lethal Rx drugs plays a role.

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By Sarah Beller

05/03/13

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Suicide rates have risen sharply in the Unites States in the past decade, and availability of opioid painkillers may be partly to blame, reports The New York Times. Suicide deaths now surpass deaths by car accidents, and the rise is especially pronounced among Americans ages 35 to 64, where the suicide rate jumped 30% between 1999 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The problem has typically been associated with teenagers and the elderly, so the surge among the middle-aged could point to a generation of baby boomers plagued by economic stress coupled with easy access to prescription painkillers. “There may be something about [baby boomers], and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference,” said the CDC’s deputy director, Ileana Arias. Although most suicides are still committed using firearms, officials report that poisoning deaths (which include intentional overdoses of prescription drugs) have risen 24% during the 10-year period (from 1999 to 2010). Experts attribute the rise in part to the widespread availability of opioid drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin, which can be particularly lethal in large doses. A 2011 SAMSA study showed a staggering rise in women attempting suicide with opioids. But while suicides are growing for both men and women, far more men take their own lives, at a rate of 27.3 deaths per 100,000 men, and 8.1 deaths per 100,000 women. And those numbers are thought to be an understatement, as many suicides are not reported.

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