A new series of studies analyzing drug-related hospital emergency department visits throughout the country during 2008 reveals a substantial percentage of these visits involve suicide attempts. According to these studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) more than one in every twelve (8.8 percent) drug-related hospital emergency department visit by an adolescent is a suicide attempt – double the rate found among cases involving those age 25 and older (4.4 percent). Among cases involving young adults aged 18 to 25 the attempted suicide rate was 6.6 percent.
The vast majority of these suicide attempts by adolescents were made by females (72.3 percent). Females constituted a majority of cases among young adults and those over age 25 as well, but at significantly lower levels (57.6 percent and 57.7 percent, respectively).
Although pharmaceutical drugs were involved in more than 9 out of 10 of these drug-related suicide attempt cases, there were considerable differences in the patterns of substances used among various age and gender groups.
For example, acetaminophen products were the most commonly used substances involved in hospital emergency department visits by female adolescents attempting suicide (28.5 percent) while anti-anxiety drugs were the most commonly used substances in cases involving females age 25 or older (49.9 percent). Similarly, adolescent males admitted for drug-related suicides were more than three times as likely to have used antipsychotic drugs as their female counterparts (14.3 percent versus 4.3 percent).
The studies also reveal significant differences in the level of follow up care (e.g., inpatient admission, transfer to another hospital facility or referral to detoxification) given in these cases -- differences often associated with the type of substance used and the age of those attempting suicide.
For example, while over 90.2 percent of adolescents who visited hospital emergency departments for attempting suicide with antidepressants received follow up care, only 52.4 percent of adolescent cases involving ibuprofen received it. Similarly, 83.1 percent of the cases involving adolescents using alcohol received follow up care while only 59.4 percent of alcohol related cases among those age 25 or older received it.
In 2007 (the most recent year for which figures are available), suicides in the United States accounted for 34,598 deaths - almost twice the number of homicides (18,361). To help address this problem, SAMHSA sponsors the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a network of crisis call centers located throughout the nation that can immediately link a caller seeking help to a trained counselor closest to the caller’s location, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Calls to the toll-free Lifeline are confidential.
“The sheer numbers of young people that continue to end up in costly hospital emergency rooms as a result of substance abuse and suicide is truly alarming and is a clear signal that we must continue to evaluate the impact of behavioral health on health and health care costs,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “The studies also point out the need to provide better follow up services after visits to emergency departments and other healthcare settings in working with people who have attempted suicide.”
In an effort to provide support for teens who may be contemplating suicide, SAMHSA and the Ad Council recently launched the Teen Suicide Prevention campaign. The We Can Help Us effort includes television, radio, print and interactive PSAs, as well as in-school and mall posters, directed at 13-17 year-olds. Young people seeking help are urged to visit www.reachout.com, where they can hear success stories and strategies from teens.
Additional information about all these aspects of SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline can be accessed at: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. Additional information about other SAMHSA suicide prevention programs can be obtained by visiting SAMHSA’s Web site, http://www.samhsa.gov.
The series of studies, Emergency Department Visits for Drug-Related Suicide Attempts by Adolescents: 2008, Emergency Department Visits for Drug-Related Suicide Attempts by Young Adults Aged 18 to 24: 2008 and Emergency Department Visits for Drug-Related Suicide Attempts by Adults Aged 25 or Older: 2008 was developed as part of SAMHSA’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality – an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues. Their data came from the 2008 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.
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