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Opioid Misuse and Suicide Risk: Don’t Ignore the Older Adult

Study Recommends Better Risk Assessment of >50 Population

New research conducted by a team from the School of Social Welfare, Albany University reports an association between nonmedical prescription opioid use (NMPOU) and risk for suicide ideation, planning, and attempt among both younger and older adults. The researchers express particular concern over the evidence for elevated risk in older adults, terming them an often overlooked and undertreated population. Lead researcher Keith Chan, PhD, MSW, commented, “Although those 18-24 have the highest prevalence of suicidality and NMPOU, the adjusted odds for NMPOU and suicidal thoughts were significantly higher for persons 50 and older. Older adults have some of the highest rates of suicide, and findings from this study highlight NMPOU as a potential risk factor for this outcome.” The findings were published in the Journal of Opioid Management.

The study examined records of a nationally representative cohort of over 38,000 adults age 18 and older that were obtained from the 2016  National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Associations between NMPOU and suicidal thinking, planning, and actual attempts were categorized by age group. Among those who had reported misuse of opioids in the 12 months prior to the survey, the likelihood for suicidal thinking, planning, and attempt were 71%, 95%, and double in comparison to nonabusers. Of the elevated risk in older adults, Dr. Chan observed, “While some older adults live vibrant, healthy lives, others experience declining physical health which can cause chronic pain, and may lead to prescription opioid use, and later, misuse and addiction. Without support and mental health treatment, older adults can become socially isolated, which is a risk factor for suicide.” Echoing the advice given by members of PAINWeek faculty, Chan recommended more thorough screenings for mental health issues including suicide ideation as part of clinicians’ opioid risk assessment.

Read about the study.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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