Publication date: Apr 10, 2019
Now health researchers are finding concrete evidence that the two preventable causes of death – which are among the top 10 in the United States – are intrinsically related: People with an opioid addiction are at much higher risk for suicide than the rest of the population; and opioid use was a contributing factor in more than 40% of all suicide and overdose deaths in 2017, according to data from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide prevention advocates have been pushing the addiction treatment community to address the substantial overlap by evaluating all patients for suicide risk and employing preventive techniques for those who need it. New guidelines recommended by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention will become facilities’ minimum standard of care for patients in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment, said Michael Johnson, managing director for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, which oversees opioid treatment programs and other rehabilitation services. Some drug treatment programs already screen patients for suicide and offer suicide prevention therapies. According to the National Action Alliance, other health care organizations that have used its suicide prevention approach saw a 60% to 80% reduction in deaths. By his estimate, at least 7,000 people in the care of publicly funded behavioral health programs die by suicide each year. In fact, many of the therapeutic techniques used to prevent suicide in people deemed at risk of harming themselves are similar to treatments for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, Johnson said. But with suicide, there’s an additional need to develop a safety plan to help people avoid suicide when they experience powerful urges to end their pain, said Julie Goldstein Grumet, a clinical psychologist who helped develop the new guidelines and directs behavioral health initiatives for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Massachusetts. But a study published in September, led by a researcher at Columbia University, showed that using safety plans for people who were discharged from Veterans Health Administration hospital emergency departments after attempting suicide, and following up with those patients through regular phone calls, cut future suicide attempts in half. Adding those uncounted deaths to the already steeply rising number of people who die by suicide – more than 47,000 in 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – underscores the need to address as one the entwined public health crises of addiction and suicide, Hogan said.
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- Examining the association between prescription opioid misuse and suicidal behaviors among adolescent high school students in the United States.
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