Study: Drug-caused suicides in Utah underestimated by 33%

Study: Drug-caused suicides in Utah underestimated by 33%

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — Utah’s number of drug overdose suicides has potentially been underreported by 33%, according to a new study.

The study published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior came to the conclusion after looking at 2,665 overdose deaths that occurred from 2012 to 2015 in Utah, the Provo Daily Herald reports.

Paul Nestadt, one of the paper’s authors, says the nation’s opioid epidemic has clouded suicide classification across the nation.

“If you work in mental health, it is pretty clear there is a lot of overlap in the symptoms of someone who is using opiates and someone who may be suicidal,” Nestadt said.

State health officials say roughly 630 Utahns die from suicide and about 4,570 attempted suicide every year.

Utah’s suicide rate is above the national average, causing the deaths of 22.7 per 100,000 people in 2017, compared to a national rate of 14 people per 100,000.

According to the study, that rate could be significantly higher.

Undetermined deaths

Utah’s rate of undetermined deaths is double the national rate, with the majority of those undetermined deaths caused by poisoning or drug overdoses.

“Compared with other causes of suicide, drug-intoxication (or poisoning) suicides are particularly prone to be misclassified as accident or undetermined,” the study reads.

The study looked at data from the Utah Department of Health and the National Violent Death Reporting System to create models that could determine if a death was a suicide.

The result was that there were potentially 229 additional deaths by suicide over the four years of data the study looked at than had previously been counted and that the total suicide rate in Utah was underreported by 9.2%.

Targeted Intervention

Nestadt said having more accurate data on suicides will allow for better-targeted interventions to prevent deaths. If someone is known to have poor mental health, then he said that a person’s access to medications that they could stockpile could be restricted.

“We can’t target any intervention until we know what is causing it,” he said.

People can find support, information, and local resources by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Suicide Prevention Resources

Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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