US Pharm. 2019;44(3):33-35.

According to recent research by a University of Michigan team, suicides and drug overdoses kill American adults at twice the rate today as 17 years ago, and opioids are a primary reason for the rise. Reversing this trend, the study authors say in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, will require an investment in proven opioid-addiction treatment and prevention programs.

The scientists also call for more research to identify those at greatest risk of deliberate or unintentional opioid overdoses to ensure that these individuals get better pain management, mental health care, and medication-assisted therapy for opioid addiction.

Relying on information from CDC databases, the researchers show that the combined number of deaths from suicides and unintentional overdoses rose from 41,364 in 2000 to 110,749 in 2017. When they calculated a rate per 100,000 Americans to factor in the increase in total population during that time, they discovered that the rate of death from these two causes had risen from 14.7% to 33.7%. And when they drilled down to include just suicides and overdoses listed as being caused by opioids, they found that these causes accounted for more than 41% of such deaths in 2017, up from 17% in 2000. Opioids were implicated in more than two-thirds of all unintentional overdose deaths in 2017 and one-third of all overdose-related suicides.

In their article, Amy Bohnert, PhD, and Mark Ilgen, PhD, examine the links between overdoses, suicides, chronic pain, and all types of opioids, including those prescribed by doctors and the kinds bought on the street. They also look at the current evidence for what works to identify risk of suicide or overdose and to treat people with chronic pain, opioid-use disorders, and mental health conditions.

“Unlike other common causes of death, overdose and suicide deaths have increased over the last 15 years in the United States,” says Bohnert. “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.”