A new study by researchers at Columbia University has found that reducing opioid prescriptions may actually lead to fewer suicides.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illicit drugs like heroin.
There have been concerns that reducing opioid prescriptions could lead to an increased risk of suicide among people who rely on these drugs to manage their pain.
However, the new study suggests that changes in regional opioid prescribing and regional suicide rates tend to move in the same direction.
The team analyzed data from the 2009-2017 U.S. national IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Database and National Center for Health Statistics mortality data.
The researchers looked at four age groups: 10-24, 25-44, 45-64, and 65 years or older, as well as males and females.
They found that having any opioid prescriptions and having three or more opioid prescribers were each negatively associated with unintentional opioid-related deaths in people in the age ranges of 10–24 and 25–44.
The researchers also found that decreasing regional opioid prescriptions were related to declining total opioid-related overdose deaths.
Furthermore, the study estimated that if opioid prescribing had remained constant rather than decreased, the national rate of suicide would have risen even faster than it did.
Overall, the study suggests that reducing opioid prescriptions can reduce the number of people who died of suicide.
However, the relationship between opioid prescribing and suicide risk is complex, and people who rely on opioids to manage their pain may become desperate if their pain is not well controlled.
Opioids also pose a greater risk of overdose than any other drug class, and approximately 40 percent of overdose suicide deaths in the U.S. involve opioids.
The researchers suggest that opioid prescription policies and practices should give careful attention to possible connections between prescription opioids and suicide risk.
How to prevent suicide?
Preventing suicide is a complex issue, but there are several steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of suicide. Here are a few:
Seek professional help: If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Build a support system: Having supportive relationships with friends and family can help prevent suicide. People who feel connected to others are less likely to engage in suicidal behaviors.
Promote mental health: Encourage mental health awareness and reduce stigma around seeking help for mental health issues. Support policies that improve access to mental health care.
Address underlying issues: Suicide is often the result of underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. Addressing these issues through therapy or medication can help reduce the risk of suicide.
Practice self-care: Engage in activities that promote self-care, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs can improve your mental health and reduce the risk of suicide.
Reduce access to lethal means: Limit access to lethal means of suicide, such as firearms or medications. This can be done by safely storing firearms and disposing of unused medications.
Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for support and resources.
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The study was conducted by Mark Olfson et al and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
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