More Women Attempting Suicide with OxyContin

By Dirk Hanson 05/26/11

Suicide attempts by women using OxyContin rose a staggering 210% between 2005 and 2009.

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Exit strategy.
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For increasing numbers of women, the opiate drugs hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin) aren’t just popular drugs of abuse—they've also become the suicide drugs of choice. A recent report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network tracked emergency department visits for drug-related suicide attempts by women from 2005 through 2009. The study found that emergency room visits involving suicide attempts by women using OxyContin rose a staggering 210% between those years. The number of women trying to off themselves by using hydrocodone products like Vicodin were up 67%.

The use of newer sedatives and hypnotics in suicide attempts rose sharply as well. Suicide attempts by women using Ambien (zolpidem) increased 158%, while attempts made by women using Klonopin jumped  84% over the same period. The trend is particularly noteworthy for women over 50, who showed a 49% increase in emergency room visits for drug-related suicide attempts overall. While the aging of the  the aging of the population may accounts for some of this statistical spike, clearly it does not account for the entire rise.

It’s common to refer to drug as killers, assassins, thieves of hope. And yet we know that a drug is an inert compound. Feelings, intentions, desires—these are the human emotional components we bring to the act of drug taking. When it comes to addiction, or suicide by overdose, we know better than to blame the drugs themselves. Yet one class of drugs that stands out: As David Lenson wrote in his recent book, On Drugs, there are certain substances “largely about themselves and the consumption of themselves, whose promise of pleasure comes entirely from the anticipation of their own effects, and that accordingly do not ‘expand consciousness’ but instead contract it to the point where all other objects are only facets of itself.” We think that is a good description of the end product of almost any addiction--but when it comes to the opiate drugs, this is where it starts. There is something closed off and final about opiates. They don’t call them painkillers for nothing. And a lot of troubled women know it.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]