Drug abuse and suicidal thoughts have been shown to be associated.  Individuals who take prescription opiates that have not been ordered by a physician are more apt to think about suicide than people who take these kinds of medications when prescribed for an appropriate medical condition or those who don’t take them at all. A recent study sponsored by NIDA revealed that the risk of suicidal thoughts stays high after people stop taking opiates. The researchers recommend that both former and present users of non-prescribed opiate medication be monitored carefully. The association between drug abuse and suicidal ideation is real, even after people no longer abuse drugs.

In the National Survey on Drug Use & Health (2009), 15% of the 37,933 participants said they had taken a non-prescribed opiate medication at least one time in their life. Among participants who were currently using opiates when they took the survey, 11% had histories of using for more than 2 years (considered persistent users), and 9% of users who had histories spanning less than a year (considered recent-onset users), had thought of committing suicide at some time in the past 12 months. Among past users who had not ingested a non-prescribed opiate medication in the past year, 7% had episodes of suicidal ideation. Compare that with just 3% of people who never took a non-prescribed opiate medication who experienced suicidal ideation.

What strongly determined episodes of suicidal ideation was severity of use: 23% of participants who reported experiencing symptoms within one year prior to taking the survey that were consistent with having a prescription opiate use disorder said they had considered suicide. Suffering episodes of major depression, something that may increase one’s vulnerability to taking non-prescribed opiates, also raised the risk of drug abuse and suicidal thoughts.

Both past and persistent use of non-prescription opiates, but not recent-onset usage, continued to be linked with suicidal ideation once an analysis was done that took into consideration the effect of depressive episodes, certain demographic characteristics like race, gender, marital status, unemployment, level of education, and other drug use. What was surmised is that a number of factors that were not being measured in the survey might have added to the risk. This includes chronic pain, which might be more prevalent among those who use non-prescribed opiates.

Both former and persistent opioid users said they had suicidal ideation at rates significantly higher than people who had never taken a non-prescribed opioid drug. People who said they suffered symptoms of being dependent on opioids were more than double as apt as people who’d never taken opioids to admit they had considered taking their lives. The amount of people who took their suicidal thoughts and ended up attempting suicide ranged from 7% to 19%, without any significant degree of difference between groups. Again, the link between drug abuse and suicidal thoughts is worrisome, especially when it raises the risk of actually attempting suicide, much less carrying it out.

All in all, 18% of people who currently use non-prescribed opiates who said they’d thought about committing suicide said they did attempt suicide, compared to 11% of people who had never used and 7% of people who formerly used who did consider suicide. People who persistently use non-prescription opioid medications raised their risk of just thinking about suicide to attempting suicide, thereby suggesting that drug abuse and suicidal behaviors are also connected.

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