Study Shows Sharp Increase in Drug-Related Suicide Attempts

By John Lavitt 09/05/14

A staggering number of people use prescription medication, not illegal drugs, to attempt suicide.

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A new study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that the number of visits to hospital emergency departments for drug-related suicide attempts has increased by 51% since 2005. 

Aside from the sharp overall rise, the report also showed a dramatic increase in young and middle-aged adults attempting suicide. People aged 18 to 29 increased by 58%, while people aged 45 to 64 increased by 104%.  As opposed to prescription painkillers, anti-anxiety and insomnia medications were a leading factor in the report.

Overall, according to the SAMHSA report, suicide attempts involving prescription medications and other drugs jumped by 51% among people 12 and older between 2005 and 2011. "We probably are seeing an increase in overall suicide attempts, and along with that we are also seeing an increase in drug-related suicide attempts," said Peter Delany, director of the agency's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "People have access to medications, and they are using both prescription and over-the-counter meds…It is clear that there are more drugs out there."

By 2011, young and middle-aged people accounted for about 60% of all drug-related suicide attempts seen in emergency rooms. The significant jump in suicide attempts by middle-aged men and women could reflect an aging population facing the harsh realities of growing old. A problem is the majority of middle-aged patients who attempt suicide are released from emergency rooms without a follow-up treatment plan.

In a second report, SAMHSA zeroed in on suicide attempts by people ages 45 to 64. In 2011, 96% of emergency room visits for attempted suicide involved the non-medical use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Illegal drugs accounted for only 11% of the attempts.

In stark contrast, anti-anxiety and insomnia medications (48%), pain relievers (29%), and antidepressants (22%) dominated the findings. Overall, according to SAMHSA statistics, there were 228,277 drug-related suicide attempts in 2011.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.