Drug-Related Suicide Attempts Rise Sharply Among Older Women

The number of emergency department visits by women 50 and older after drug-related suicide attempts has increased sharply in recent years, according to a new study.

From 2005 to 2009, the number of women in this age group who were taken to the ER for attempted suicide involving drugs increased 49 percent.

While this increase from 11,235 in 2005 to 16,757 in 2009, reflected the overall population growth of women aged 50 and older, the researchers say the increased role of certain pharmaceuticals was particularly dramatic. For example, the number of annual cases involving oxycodone tripled (from 1,895 in 2005 to 5,875 in 2009), and there was a two-thirds increase in the number of cases involving hydrocodone (from 4,613 in 2005 to 7,715 in 2009), Both are narcotic pain relievers .

In addition, emergency department visits for suicide attempts involving drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia increased 56 percent (fom 32,426 in 2005 to 50,548 in 2009) among females during this period.

"The steep rise in abuse of narcotic pain relievers by women is extremely dangerous, and we are now seeing the result of this public health crisis in our emergency rooms," said Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the organization that conducted the report. "Emergency rooms should not be the frontline in our efforts to intervene. Friends, family and all members of the community must do everything possible to help identify women who may be in crisis and do everything possible to reach out and get them needed help."

The researchers could not tell whether the side effects of the drugs played a role in an individual's decision to attempt suicide.

Many people may not realize it, but suicide is nearly twice as common as homicide in the United States. In 2007, more than 34,000 suicides were recorded, compared with about 18,000 homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Common warning signs of someone at increased risk for suicide can include: talking about wanting to die, talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, acting anxious, agitated or recklessly, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawing or feeling isolated and displaying mood swings, according to SAMHSA.

People in crisis or concerned about someone they believe may be at risk for suicide can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) for 24-hour, immediate assistance anywhere in the country.

Pass it on: The number of women visiting the ER for drug-related suicide attempts increased nearly 50 percent between 2005 and 2009.

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Live Science Staff
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