Suicides involving opioids have doubled

New study finds correlation between the opioid epidemic and opioid-related suicides


Research Triangle Park, NC— 1,825— that’s how many Americans committed suicide using opioids in 2014. While that number is alarming, according to a new study, it has more than doubled over the past 15 years.

Suicide Deaths With Opioid Poisoning in the United States: 1999–2014,” published in the American Journal of Public Health, was written by behavioral health researchers from the University of Washington and RTI International.

“Never before has the rate of suicides involving opioids in the United States been studied,” said Mark Edlund, MD, PhD, author and senior research scientist at RTI. “Jennifer Braden, Mark Sullivan and I wanted to better understand the relationship between suicides and opioids and whether suicide rates began to increase in 1999 when the use of prescription opioid therapy began to grow.”

Researchers analyzed death certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System. The analysis showed that the number of suicides involving opioids in 1999, about 640, more than doubled in 2014.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Among suicides with opioids listed as a contributing cause of death, the majority involved prescription opioids not illicit drugs like heroin
  • Suicide rates with opioid poisoning quadrupled between 1999 and 2014 among those age 55 and 64 years, and were highest overall for individuals aged 45 to 54 years.
  • Rates were highest in the West and did not differ by gender.    

“As the opioid epidemic continues in the United States, research and data continue to play a critical role in informing policies and programs,” Edlund said. “Findings from the study emphasize the need for health care providers to assess suicidal risk in patients receiving opioids.”

To read the study, visit the American Journal of Public Health.

To learn more about RTI’s opioid research, visit our Emerging Issues page