Suicide rates have been climbing in the U.S., particularly in Rocky Mountain states such as Colorado. Benzodiazepines have been linked with suicidal ideation, but there have been few population level assessments of this link. We conducted a public health assessment to determine the epidemiology and prevalence of recent benzodiazepine exposure, among suicide deaths in Colorado from 2015 to 17.
This epidemiologic assessment linked Colorado’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, death certificate data, and Violent Death Reporting System to determine patterns of benzodiazepine exposure among suicide deaths in Colorado between 2015 and 2017. Recent benzodiazepine exposure was defined as receiving a prescription within 30 days of death or having a positive toxicology screen post-mortem.
Among the 3465 suicide deaths in Colorado between 2015 and 2017, 20% had recent benzodiazepine exposure, and nearly 50% of those also had recent opioid exposure. Recent benzodiazepine exposure was more common among females than males (34% versus 16%). Among suicide deaths, those who died via drug overdose were more likely to have had recent benzodiazepine exposure (48%), compared to suicides by firearm (17%), hanging/asphyxiation (13%) and all other methods (approximately 20%).
Benzodiazepines have been linked to suicidal ideation, but population level assessments of benzodiazepine exposure among suicide deaths are rare. Our epidemiologic assessment indicates a relatively high prevalence of recent benzodiazepine exposure that warrants further investigation from both clinical and public health perspectives.