The use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes has been increasing over the last decade, and the profile of a typical drug addict is starting to change as well. Now, treatment programs are seeing many over-50 individuals addicted to prescription drugs originally prescribed to treat chronic pain or anxiety problems.
The changes are registering in other ways as well. From 2005 to 2009, there was a significant increase in emergency department visits for drug-related suicide attempts by women aged 50 and older. There were 11,235 visits in 2005 and 16,757 visits in 2009, an increase of 49 percent.
The report is issued from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which shows that while overall rates for these types of visits have remained stable, the types of drugs involved have changed. Suicide attempts involving drugs for anxiety and insomnia showed an increase of 56 percent during the period, increasing from 32,426 in 2005 to 50,548 in 2009.
The emergency department visits for suicide attempts related to pain relievers among females also increased significantly, from 36,563 in 2005 to 47,838 in 2009, an increase of more than 30 percent. Narcotic pain relievers, including hydrocodone and oxydocone showed an especially dramatic increase. Hydrocodone-related visits for suicide attempts showed a 67 percent increase, and oxycodone-related visits were up by 210 percent.
Experts at SAMHSA are concerned about the report’s findings. The misuse of prescription drugs, specifically narcotic pain relievers is a public health crisis that is now showing an extreme side in the suicide attempts reported in emergency departments.
The report indicates that there is a significant need for intervention before abuse reaches this level of crisis in the emergency department. More needs to be done, say experts, to identify women struggling with misuse of prescription drugs who are also contemplating suicide.
To identify a woman who may be at an increased risk of suicide, SAMHSA suggests watching for particular signs that may indicate likelihood of a suicide attempt. Talking about wanting to die, talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose or acting anxious, agitated or reckless may be warning signs. In addition, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, signs of withdrawal or isolation or mood swings may also indicate that a suicide attempt may be likely.
The dramatic increase in drug-related suicide attempts involving pain relievers and drugs for anxiety and insomnia show the significant problem that misuse of prescription drugs has become. Additional monitoring of dispensing of prescriptions may be required to prevent the misuse of these dangerous, addictive drugs.