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Pain, Suicide, and Overdose—Don’t Ignore the Connections

A Deeper Dive Into the Links Between Opioid Use, Overdose, and Suicide

New and disheartening statistics on opioid-related suicide and unintentional overdose deaths have emerged from a review and analysis of data by researchers from the University of Michigan. Writing this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team concludes that rates of suicide and overdose fatalities have doubled in the US since the year 2000, and that opioids are responsible for over 1/3 of the former and 2/3s of the latter. Author Amy Bohnert, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at University of Michigan Medical School, remarked, “Unlike other common causes of death, overdose and suicide deaths have increased over the last 15 years in the United States. This pattern, along with overlap in the factors that increase risk for each, support the idea that they are related problems and the increases are due to shared fundamental causes.”

The article details an array of possible interventions to identify and then reduce the risk of suicide or overdose among individuals at greatest risk for these incidents, including greater engagement of medication assisted treatment for those with opioid use disorder, more ubiquitous naloxone availability to address overdose incidents, and opioid tapering for patients on high dose prescription therapy. Coauthor Mark Ilgen, PhD, professor of psychiatry and associate director of the U-M Addiction Center, observed, “Individuals with chronic pain are at clear elevated risk for both unintentional overdose and suicide. To date, many system-level approaches to address overdose and suicide have addressed these as if they are unrelated outcomes.” 

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Read about the findings and recommendations.

The journal article may be read here.