Over-The-Counter Meds Increasingly Used By Young People For Self-Poisoning

By Victoria Kim 10/09/19

Over an 18-year period, U.S. poison control centers reported more than 1.5 million self-poisoning suicide attempts by people 10-25 years old.

Over-The-Counter meds
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Young people are increasingly using easily accessible over-the-counter drugs to attempt suicide, according to a new analysis.

In May, it was reported in the journal Pediatrics that over the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of suicide attempts by self-poisoning. From 2000 to 2018, U.S. poison control centers reported 1,677,435 self-poisoning suicide attempts by people 10-25 years old. Young women and girls made up the majority of cases.

The OTC Drugs Involved In The Attempts

A new study from the same team, published in Clinical Toxicology, examined the substances used in these attempts.

The most common substances included over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics (pain relievers) such as Tylenol or Advil, and antihistamines. The study authors noted that these drugs are “widely available over-the-counter with no restrictions regarding access.”

Of the 1,677,435 suicide attempts with poison, 27.5% of them involved OTC analgesics. (Opioids, however, were involved in far fewer cases.)

Vox noted, “But when the researchers looked at just ‘serious outcomes'—this includes needing medical treatment, or symptoms that don’t resolve quickly, or death—over the counter pain medicines were involved in 37.3% of the cases.” This highlights the potential harm that easily accessible drugs can cause.

Serious Outcomes

Vox noted that while suicide attempts by poisoning are fatal less than 5% of the time, they are still traumatic and can still cause serious damage.

“Some of the more commonly accessible medicines were able to produce some of the most serious outcomes among young people,” said John Ackerman, study co-author and Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Ackerman said that parents and caregivers should talk to their children about their mental and emotional health.

Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among American teenagers. Between 2009 and 2017, the number of high schoolers considering suicide increased by 25%. The number of high schoolers’ suicide deaths increased by 33% during this same time period.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr